• Recent news has been peppered with horrifying stories of harm done to clients engaged in therapy

  • Welldoing founder Louise Chunn summarises some key points about keeping yourself safe

  • All Welldoing therapists are verified yearly as members of professional associations

There is a glut of horror stories about therapy in the press lately. “A therapist told me she could fix my life. Then she destroyed it” screamed the Telegraph headline this week, telling the story of a young woman who spent more than a decade in thrall to therapy sessions with a ruthless life coach. 

Days later “slap therapy” in The Times was blamed for the death of a diabetic 71-year woman during a Wiltshire retreat meant to bring about a “healing crisis”. Life-saving treatment was deemed to be retrogressive by this holistic therapist whose faith in his abilities was “entrenched and unshakeable”.

Sex therapist Mike Lousada escaped a trial when the CPS did not go ahead with charges of raping a young female client who sought help for panic attacks that she had during consensual sex, as a result of unresolved trauma stemming from childhood sexual abuse. But the woman, Ella Janneh, waived her right to anonymity to mount a successful private prosecution. Lousada who carried out several sexual acts on the complainant, including penetration, will now be forced to pay more than £200,000 in damages to her, reported The Guardian

In the Daily Mail therapist Lucy Cavendish wrote an expose of bad therapist behaviour which stretched from flirting and inappropriate behaviour with clients to directing clients to leave their partners. “And worse still, I've also heard of a couple splitting up and then the female therapist getting together with the male half within a matter of months! That crosses so many ethical red lines that actually the therapist should be struck off — if she was ever on an official register.”

Such stories would lead anyone looking to see a therapist to ask: how do I know if I can trust any of them? 

Check their training and professional status

The first thing to understand is that terms such as therapist, psychotherapist, counsellor, psychologist are not protected titles. This means that anyone – someone without qualifications or experience, or someone with all the certificates and checks one could hope for – can be described using the same terminology. These words alone do not give you the reassurance you need, so you will need to dig a little deeper.

Use reputable matching service Welldoing

There are many different modalities of therapy, and training for each of them can range enormously. For this reason, we at Welldoing use as our yardstick professional association membership. We will not accept any individual onto our platform without checking that they are bona fide members of a limited number of associations. The biggest of these are the BACP, NCPS, and UKCP. There are also those whose areas of training are covered by the HCPC or the CNHC. 

Once we have verified these memberships, we continue to check on this status every year. If someone has been removed, or stopped their professional membership then they may not stay with Welldoing. This is not true of all the other therapist directories. 

You can read what Welldoing’s Charter for Therapists and Their Clients covers here.

Also, if trying to sort out who would be the best therapist for you and your needs, we have an additional service that can really help narrow down the choices. Read about the Personalised Matching Service here. It’s a paid service, but for not much more than a single therapy session, we can direct you towards the best individual for your needs.

Complain if you feel your treatment has gone badly

Finally if you have reason to feel boundaries have been broached or your therapist has behaved badly, consult with their professional association. Most of them publish their Code of Ethics which clearly lay out what therapists are trained to adhere to. For example, this is a selection of points from the BACP’s Code:

  • increasing personal resilience and effectiveness

  • appreciating the variety of human experience and culture

  • protecting the safety of clients

  • ensuring the integrity of practitioner-client relationships

You can see how this highlights such good practice as encouraging clients not to be over-reliant, avoiding relationships that over-step the mark between therapist and client, thinking about clients as people with individual needs. 

As Cavendish wrote in her story, “When therapy goes wrong, it can be ruinous. People find it hard enough to pluck up the courage to start, and then find it even harder to know what kind of therapist to see. When they're let down by a bad therapist, it wrecks their faith in the very concept of therapy and makes them question whether they can ever get better at all.”

There are 10s of 1000s of well-trained, ethical therapists and counsellors in the UK. Take care when deciding which one of them is the right person for you.

Louise Chunn is the founder of Welldoing

Further reading

Why the therapeutic relationship is so different

Why are therapists so fascinating to their clients?

Does it matter whether therapists have a professional association?

How do I end therapy?

Why are therapists in therapy?