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  • Writer's picture Heidi Ashley

How to find a therapist who specialises in childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect (CEN)


Selecting a specialist in childhood trauma

You’re tired of your childhood feeling like an a weight around your neck. You’re ready to put in the hard work to break free of old patterns that don’t work for you and start living your life again.

 

You decide it’s time to work with a professional to turn things around.


… But out there seem a million different therapists, using various confusing titles, advocating all kinds of therapy models.

 

How are you supposed to make sense of this? Where do you even begin?

 

The NHS is a safe option

 

The NHS provides psychological therapies that are free at the point of delivery. Your GP can refer you. I know NHS waiting times can be very long. But NHS therapists are qualified, supervised and the NHS has very good governance (quality care). For some, the NHS will be the best provider of care.

 

Of course, some people won’t want to be seen in the NHS. They might not want to wait months to be seen; they need appointment times that work for them; or want a strong say in how long they are seen for.

 

If this is you, I have advice for you.


Take care

 

It’s legal in the UK for anyone to call themselves a “psychologist”, “counsellor” or “therapist” and open for business. Right now, these titles aren’t protected in law. (This is a ridiculous, unsafe situation and makes me angry).

 

It’s natural that a member of the public would assume that someone calling themselves a “psychologist” has been through years of professional training.

 

But they could be someone with very little training in mental health.

 

Similarly, you might trust that someone saying they’re a “counsellor” or “psychotherapist” has been properly trained.

 

It isn’t always the case, though.

 

This seems such an unsafe situation for clients. I hope it’s changed. 

 

The HCPC is there to be used by you 

 

Lots of kinds of therapists offer psychological therapies. There isn’t scope here to talk about them all. Counsellors, psychotherapists, CBT therapists, mental health practitioners, art therapists … 

 

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) regulate a slice of the therapists out there, including clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists.

 

To use the terms “clinical” or “counselling psychologist”, practitioners must have gone through a rigorous professional training lasting years. They must adhere to ethical guidelines and practice standards and engage in continuing professional development and supervision. The HCPC can strike off clinical or counselling psychologists who engage in misconduct. 

 

You can check a psychologist is HCPC registered. It’s fast and easy.

 

By the way: the difference in practice between clinical and counselling psychologists isn’t huge. For most clients, this won’t be of interest. Both provide psychological therapies to a very high standard.

 

If you’ve gone through childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect, I recommend you find someone who specialises in that. Someone whose whole focus is around helping people just like you.

 

How do you find a specialist?

 

Choosing someone because they take your insurance or are conveniently close to where you work probably isn’t the best way.

 

A good therapist is worth travelling to. Or can see you online.

 

Some therapists don’t work with insurance companies, for good reasons. If you can self-fund as a client, you’ll have access to more therapists. (I understand not everyone can do this.)

 

Put some work into finding someone who only sees clients like you. A therapist with a deep interest in helping people move past childhood trauma and neglect.

 

Look at websites or directory profiles and you’ll find plenty of therapists listing ‘trauma’ in the long, long lists of problems they work with. They usually have long lists of therapies on offer, too.

 

A possible issue attending a therapist who is generalised is they may lack a deep enough understanding of YOUR specific problem.

 

I’m not saying these are bad or disreputable therapists, because most aren’t. Amongst them will be great therapists.

 

But it doesn’t feel good when you’ve had the courage to raise childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect (CEN) with a therapist – who never mentions it again.  People are sometimes in therapy for years waiting for their therapist to get the trauma work started. Meanwhile, the therapist seems avoidant, possibly because they don’t feel very confident working with these issues.

 

Therapists who specialise in childhood trauma or CEN are more likely to bring these topics up with you early and get on with helping you actively work on and process these experiences.


I don’t mean that in the first session you’re expected to put it all out there. 

 

But it should be openly acknowledged that this is something you want help for and that’s why you’re there.

 

So, take a good look at therapist sites and profiles. Do they say quite explicitly that they work with childhood trauma or CEN? Are they clearly reaching for people like you? Showing they really ‘get’ how it feels? And know how to help? Is it clear what their focus is?

 

When you talk to them, pay attention to how they make you feel. Look for someone you ‘click’ with or connect to. Don’t feel you have to commit early. Maybe phone or even meet with another therapist to try them out too. Finding the right therapist is kind of like dating! Approach it with a similar mindset.

 

I also encourage you to be bold and ask the therapist questions. I know! Cringe. Clients usually don’t do this. Maybe they think it seems rude or feel they should defer to a therapist.

 

I’m here to say it’s perfectly healthy to politely ask some questions of this person who you will be a) paying and b) investing a lot in emotionally to find out if they’re right for you. Listen to their answers and pay attention to how they make you feel about asking. (Do they get a bit prickly, defensive?)

 

Push past any hesitancy you may feel and ask:

 

-       How do you work with people who have gone through childhood trauma / emotional neglect?

Or,

-       Do you focus on childhood experiences in your work? How do you do that?

 

Look for a therapist who can clearly explain to you how they address trauma and identifies one - at most two - models they work from.

 

For example, I’d say something like:

 

That’s such an important question and I’m glad you asked. I use schema therapy because of its strong focus on childhood. It uses active techniques to process emotion and helps people break free from old patterns that don’t work for them anymore. I’m an active therapist and, in the change phase of work with me, every session focuses on addressing the childhood experiences behind your problems.

 

Other therapists will answer in different ways but listen for answers that sound vague, like “I just allow my clients space to talk”.

 

This isn’t an exhaustive description of how to find a therapist who specialises in the kind of help you may need, but hopefully makes it feel a bit less chaotic and overwhelming.

 

And if you’ve got this far and think maybe I might be the right therapist for you, reach out to me.  I would love to help you overcome the past, break free and enjoy your life!




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