Finding the right therapist or counsellor

Talking therapies explained

The word 'talking therapy' covers all the psychological therapies that involve a person talking to a therapist about their problems.

You will find below is a brief explanation of some general talking treatments and how they can help. Your doctor or mental health worker can help you decide which one would be best for you.


Counselling is probably the best-known talking therapy and the one most likely to be available on the NHS at your doctor’s surgery.

Counselling is ideal for people who are basically healthy, but need help coping with a present crisis, such as:


Relationship issues




Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

The aim of CBT is to help you think more positively about life and free yourself from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

CBT is available on the NHS for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems there are also self-help books and computer courses based on CBT to help you overcome common problems like depression.

In a CBT session, you are set goals with your therapist and also carry out tasks between meetings.

Like counselling, CBT deals with present situations more than events in your past or childhood.

CBT has been shown to work for a variety of mental health problems.

CBT can help with:



Panic attacks


Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Eating disorders, especially bulimia


Psychotherapy involves talking more about how you’re past influences and how this has influenced the choices you make today.

There are different types of psychotherapy sessions and these sessions last longer than CBT and counselling.

Psychotherapy can be useful for people with long-term or recurring problems to find the cause of their difficulties.

Family therapy

In a family therapy, the therapist works with the whole family. The therapist listens to their views and relationships to understand the problems the family is having and help the family members communicate better with each other.

Family therapy is offered if the whole family is in difficulty could be because one member of the family has a serious problem that’s affecting the rest of the family. Family therapists deal with different issues.

Child and adolescent behavioural problems

Mental health conditions, illness and disability in the family

Separation, divorce and step-family life

Domestic violence

Drug addiction or alcohol addiction

Relationship counselling

Relationship or couples therapy can help when a relationship is in crisis.

Both partners talk in confidence to a counsellor or therapist to look at what has gone wrong in their relationship and how to change things for the better.

Both partners should attend the weekly sessions, but even if one person attends they can still help.

Group therapy

In a group therapy, around 12 people meet, together with a therapist. Through this session people who share a common problem get support and advice from each other. It helps you realise you’re not alone in your experiences.

Interpersonal therapy

In Interpersonal therapy treatment helps get people with depression to identify and address problems in their relationships with family, partners and friends.

Behavioural activation

Behavioural activation therapy encourages people to develop more positive behaviour, like planning activities and doing productive things that they would usually avoid doing. 

Mindfulness-based therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies helps to focus on your thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them. This is used to help treat depression, stress, anxiety and addiction.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) combines techniques such as meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises and breathing exercises to help people learn how to cope with stress.

Feeling comfortable with your therapist or counsellor is very important, as this affects how well your treatment goes. 

What sort of therapist do you want?

If you are planning to have counselling or therapy privately, you need think about what kind of therapist you want. For instance, you may prefer a man or a woman, someone with the same background as you (or a different one) or someone your own age or older.

If you’re having talking therapy on the NHS, you may not be able to choose who you see, but if you’re not happy with the allocated therapist or counsellor you can ask for a referral to a different therapist.

Talking therapies require you to be honest with yourself as you try to understand yourself better.

At first, expect to feel awkward and nervous. You’ll feel less intimidated as time goes on.

The aim is to talk about what’s on your mind, even though you may feel confused by uncertain feelings, doubts and questions.

There may give you tasks or homework, to do between sessions, such as trying out new ways of behaving or keeping a diary. But remember getting yourself to each meeting is a huge step forward.

Finding the right therapist for you

Make sure that they are qualified by a professional body, such as the BACP.

When you meet a therapist for the first time, ask yourself if you think you feel comfortable with your therapist. 

If you think you would feel uncomfortable no matter whom the therapist was and you are concerned you can ask for referral.

Talking therapies can mean opening up about your private thoughts and feelings, so it’s important that the therapist puts you at ease.

Ask yourself:

Do you feel comfortable telling this person intimate details about your life?

Do you like their manner towards you?

Do you trust them?

Do you feel safe with them?

Do you feel they want what’s best for you?

A good therapist:

Listens to what you say

Values what you say

Shows empathy and understanding

Doesn’t talk down to you

Checks you're getting what you want from therapy

Deals with any worries you may have about the therapy, such as how you’ll manage when it comes to an end.