The Importance of Choosing Your Own Therapist in EAPs

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Empowering employees to choose their own therapist is crucial to the success of workplace therapy programmes and EAPs. However, individuals can also encounter problems when trying to navigate the many different types of therapy available. They might also struggle to identify the best approach for them. That is why being able to access specialist advice when choosing a therapist — while also making your own final decision — is important to successful therapy.

Why “therapist fit” is important

The fit between a therapist and their client is crucial to the therapeutic process. Studies (such as APA’s Society of Clinical Psychology study) have shown that a strong, positive therapeutic relationship is often the cornerstone of successful therapy. If this relationship is grounded in trust, understanding and mutual respect, then it allows clients to feel safe, valued and open to the process of change and healing. Yet finding the right therapist is easier said than done for a variety of reasons. 

For instance, different mental wellness challenges often need different therapeutic approaches. So while person-centred counselling might be ideal for someone dealing with life transitions or mild stress, it may not be as effective for someone who has experienced a recent traumatic event. In such cases, trauma-informed therapies like Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) or Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) are often more suitable, as they are designed to help people process trauma

Likewise, if an individual is experiencing issues with their relationships or family, then a therapist with a background in systemic therapy would have the specialist knowledge needed to help them. For therapy to be successful, a therapist needs to have the skills, knowledge and experience relevant to the client's issues. 

The advantages of choosing your therapist

Many organisations with Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) assign therapists to employees but this can come with issues. For instance, given the highly personal nature of therapy, people increasingly want to have a say in who their therapist is. After all, therapy is all about building a connection and understanding each other on a human level. So when a person gets to choose their therapist, it can make the whole experience more personal and effective. Finding someone who gets you can make a big difference in the journey. 

Here are some of the benefits of clients selecting their therapist: 

  1. Compatibility and shared values
    If a therapist and client’s values and beliefs are aligned then this can have a big impact on the therapy's effectiveness. Compatibility can create a more open and honest dialogue, which is crucial for progress. For instance, a person who values a holistic approach to mental health might feel more at ease with a therapist who incorporates mindfulness or body-oriented practices into their sessions. Likewise, someone else may feel that a therapist with a more traditional style is better for them.
  1. Effective working relationship
    As previously mentioned, the dynamics of the therapist-client relationship play a significant role in the success of therapy. A client's preference for a particular style can greatly influence their comfort and engagement in the process. For instance, some people want a straight-talking therapist who will challenge them, while others would feel criticised by this and might need someone with a more gentle approach. A relationship where the client and therapist are in alignment is more likely to foster healing and growth.
  1. Building trust and safety
    The therapeutic process often involves discussing deeply personal and sensitive issues. So when a person can choose their therapist, they can select someone who feels safe and trustworthy to them — and this “felt sense” is often based on many factors. This comfort level is crucial as it encourages openness and vulnerability, which are key to addressing and resolving underlying issues.

  2. Meeting specific needs and preferences
    Many clients have personal preferences about their therapist's gender, cultural background or experience working with particular groups of people. Being able to choose someone who fits with their preferences can play a significant role in how easily someone will feel able to begin and engage in therapy.

  3. Empowerment and control
    Starting therapy can be daunting, so having a say in which therapist you see can provide a sense of control. When a person chooses their therapist, they have a feeling of agency in their mental health journey — and this is crucial, as therapy often involves discussing and addressing aspects of a person’s life where they feel vulnerable or out of control. This sense of empowerment can be a crucial step in the therapeutic process.

  4. Convenience and accessibility
    Practical considerations such as the therapist's availability, location and whether they offer in-person or online sessions can impact a person’s ability to consistently attend therapy sessions. When clients get to choose their therapist, they can make sure that appointments fit seamlessly into their routine. This makes the process a lot less stressful and also makes it more likely that they will attend therapy regularly.

The problems and pitfalls of choosing your therapist 

Despite these advantages, there are certain drawbacks when individuals choose a therapist without professional guidance. Starting therapy can be a big step and often, people are totally new to the whole process. This means that it can be hard to know where to start and the sheer variety of options can feel overwhelming. 

Some might have heard about a specific type of therapy and hope that it's the right fit for them, without really knowing if it matches their needs. Others might have misconceptions about certain kinds of therapy, yet those approaches could be ideal for them. 

So when a person is choosing a therapist, they might encounter the following pitfalls:

  1. Knowledge limitations
    We don’t know what we don’t know — and realistically, most individuals are unlikely to be aware of all the therapeutic approaches available to them. Each approach, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to Psychodynamic Therapy, has its own strengths and is suited to different types of issues. Without a comprehensive understanding of these options, individuals might choose a type of therapy that is less effective for their specific needs.

  2. Influence of trends
    Sometimes, certain therapeutic approaches gain popularity through media exposure or word of mouth, leading individuals to choose them without fully understanding if they are the best fit for their needs. For example, many people have heard of CBT but may not be aware of other, newer approaches that can also have positive results. This trend-based selection can overshadow other therapies that might have a stronger research base or be more suitable for their specific concerns. 
  1. Restrictive preferences
    Added to this, personal preferences can sometimes be too narrow, potentially causing individuals to overlook therapists who could be a great fit. After all, it can be very difficult to know how something will feel before actually doing it. 

For instance, someone might prefer a therapist of a particular gender, assuming they would be more comfortable discussing certain topics with them or that they'll be more empathetic to their situation. Yet this might not necessarily lead to the most effective therapeutic relationship. A good therapist does not need to have had the same experience as their client in order to empathise with them or support them. 

So while it is crucial to give people the option of choosing their therapist, this needs to be coupled with expert advice and assistance. This will mean that the client gets the best of both words — the ability to choose someone that they feel comfortable with, yet who is also a match for their needs.

The importance of accessing professional guidance when choosing a therapist 

As the wide range of therapeutic options can feel bewildering to people, they might need help with choosing the right therapist. Yet unfortunately, due to a lack of expert guidance in this area, they could be given generic or one-size-fits-all advice that’s just not right for them. This is because advice on choosing a therapist sometimes comes from generalist mental health workers rather than specialists. 

For instance, many mental health providers and insurance companies have call centre employees who make therapy referrals, yet these individuals often have a limited understanding of the nuances and specificities of different therapeutic modalities. They may also lack up-to-date knowledge about best practices or evidence-based methodologies.

This is why expert guidance in selecting a therapist is invaluable, as a specialist advisor can identify the most effective approach for an individual's unique circumstances and needs. Experts in therapy will be aware of up-to-date research on what works best for who, plus will be able to draw upon their own professional experience. 

For example, people who are highly intellectual and over-rely on thinking their way through issues often do better with an experiential approach. That is because it helps them to connect with their body and emotions.

A blended approach — the best of both worlds

So when it comes to matching people to the right kind of therapy for them — while also giving them the autonomy to choose their therapist — what’s the solution?

A concierge or intermediary service offers an ideal middle ground, blending professional guidance with personal choice. This service generally starts by providing a curated list of therapists who meet specific criteria related to a person’s needs, including experience, training and specialisation. However, the final decision is then left to the individual, allowing them to consider their personal preferences and 'gut feeling'. A concierge service can point people in the right direction while also empowering them to make that crucial final choice. 

As an example, at Lumo we have RightMatch — a brief series of questions that we ask to enable us to recommend the right therapies and therapists. RightMatch will tell us:

  • What is this person looking for?
  • What would be the most effective approach for them?
  • Which therapists match their preferences?

We then provide the client with a shortlist of therapists, meaning that they can:

  • Browse each therapist’s profile.
  • Watch their introductory videos.
  • Find out about their specialisms, experience and qualifications.

This gives clients a chance to figure out who would be a good match for them without any pressure. It puts the power in their hands, without leaving them feeling overwhelmed by the decision-making process. 

Concierge services and personal choice — an empowering and effective combination

In summary, the importance of finding a therapist who is a good fit cannot be overstated, as it has a profound impact on the therapy’s effectiveness. Yet while people might prefer to choose a therapist that they feel comfortable with, their choice can also be limited by their layperson’s knowledge of therapy. This means that they might not always gravitate towards the right therapist or therapy for them.

A combined approach, offering both professional guidance and personal choice, offers the best solution. It ensures that the client gets recommendations on the kind of therapy that would most benefit them, while also honouring their instincts and preferences in making the final choice.

The Importance of Choosing Your Own Therapist in EAPs
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