How to find a therapist: what to consider

Complementary medicine is a growing field with increasing numbers of practitioners. Some therapies, mostly counselling-based, are available under the NHS and practitioners are usually qualified and experienced. But finding such practitioners outside the NHS, or for therapies which the NHS does not offer, can be a challenge. It is important to find the right therapist to suit your needs. So, here are some issues you may want to consider.

Regulation

Unlike doctors, nurses or psychiatrists, almost no complementary therapists are governed by statutory regulation, and there is no overarching organisation like the General Medical Council, which oversees them.

The Government has encouraged self-regulation in this field. There are therefore voluntary professional bodies and registers that provide information about how complementary medicine is regulated and classified, and to help you find the right type of therapy and therapist.

Therapists register voluntarily but different therapies require different registration criteria for qualifications, experience and so on. You should choose a therapist who is a member of, or is accredited by a professional body.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council sets national standards for some of the therapies included here – aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, massage, acupuncture, reflexology, some nutritionists, reiki, shiatsu, sports therapy and yoga. The Register of Exercise Professionals does a similar job for its members.

The best therapists should undergo regular testing and review by their professional body, so check they have met its requirements. If you feel you have been victim to any kind of breach of patient/practitioner etiquette, we suggest you contact the regulators of that therapy to report the incident.

Experience

It is important to get the most out of a therapist, and their experience is key in dealing with your health concerns. An experienced therapist should be able to identify your stress factors, understand your lifestyle, and tailor their help to your needs. Don’t be shy about asking important questions about their experience in treating your condition and qualifications when you first meet, and ask for hard evidence instead of taking their word for it. Being registered with a regulatory organisation can demonstrate this, but you should also consider additional factors like cost, and how at ease you feel with the therapist.

Cost

Some therapies can be very expensive and in most cases the price will vary depending on the experience and qualifications of the practitioner and the length and number of sessions. Make sure you are clear about this at the outset and that you can afford it. Avoid paying up front for a block of sessions until you are sure that you are making the right decision.

Getting into debt is stressful in itself, so finding the right balance between qualifications, experience and price is essential. It may well be useful to speak to your GP about your symptoms and options, as there may be help available under the NHS. You can also work independently at home with CDs, DVDs or online courses for some therapies, which saves money.

Risks

Make sure you check if there are any possible risks involved with the treatment, and that the therapist has liability and public indemnity insurance.

Your doctor

Your GP may want to find out about any complementary treatment you are undergoing in case it interacts with any you are already receiving, so be sure that you are comfortable with this and that the therapist will co-operate.

You

Selecting the right procedure and therapist is important. You should feel at ease and that you can be completely honest to receive the maximum appropriate help. The sessions should be well-planned, relaxed and beneficial. Remember that these therapies are completely optional and you are in control. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with your therapist or that they are not helping, you can stop the sessions and try someone or something more suited to your needs.

Many therapies will have a set number of sessions but generally there is no set rule, even if your therapist says so. It is always down to your needs and how you feel.

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