Vav Simon
(Mhairi Simon)

Clinical Director

01983 566009

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How to Choose a Good Therapist

I've often been asked, "How do I choose a good therapist for my pet?"

Nobody wants to put their four-legged family member into the hands of an inexperienced or ineffective practitioner.

There are too many hair-raising stories of ‘back-ladies’, ‘dog whisperers’, and ‘behaviour therapists’ who cost pet owners time, money and sadness. There are ‘qualified’ therapists who have done a weekend course in the therapy which gives them a great-sounding certificate, or even letters after their name, but no experience.

I'm sad to say I still find myself following highly qualified therapists round the country mending what they have failed to fix.

One immediate guideline is: don’t choose in a hurry!

If your pet’s problem is urgent, you should probably go straight to the vet. If it is a repeating problem, or one that has hung around too long despite everything the vet as tried, then that is a different issue. Or if it is a less serious problem and does not necessarily need a vet, then take your time.

It’s not easy to give you a guaranteed fool-proof method of choosing a good therapist, but here are some pointers.

Are they in business?

Although this immediately means they are going to charge for their services, it also means that they are fully committed to the job, willing to be known for their work, and taking their reputation seriously. It should also mean that they are fully qualified, registered and able to help you claim insurance. They should be insured, follow a professional code of conduct and continue to keep up with advances in research and policy, etc.

Are they professional?

When you see their advert, website or office, does it look properly kept, appropriate for the work they do, and well-used? When you meet the receptionist and the therapist, do they know what they are talking about? Can they immediately tell you what they cannot help with, or are not trained or permitted to help with? Will they tell you where else you can go, alternatives that you could try yourself (if appropriate) or actually refer you to another therapist more suitable? Will they refer back and liaise when your animal needs the vet?

Are they experienced?

As an animal owner, you will usually be able to tell quickly how experienced a therapist is with animals. If you see a therapist making basic mistakes in approaching your pet, take it as a warning sign. This therapist may tell you he is a student or newly qualified. Ask who his supervisor is - if the problem turns out to be difficult, you know they have someone experienced to go to. This means that your pet will not be left in the lurch if the student gets out of his or her depth.

Are they open-minded?

There is a very good warning in the professional world, “If all you have is a hammer, then all problems look like nails”. You need a therapist who can understand what has gone wrong and can choose the best method of dealing with it, and then tell you why.

Some professions (including orthodox ones) are tending to make rules for the therapist to follow without thinking – to save time, perhaps. But this cuts out professional judgement, which leads to a lack of creativity and willingness to try other methods if the first one doesn’t work. Or if it doesn’t work well-enough – which may be your point of view when there is some progress but not enough for you (considering what you had been led to believe was possible). An open-minded professional will be willing to discuss options with you, without feeling personal criticism.

Are they talented?

This is difficult to judge before your first meeting. But asking other pet owners will tell you about the therapist’s reputation and you will find two things:

1.  Different people will always give slightly different answers, because they are different people.

2.  Opinions will fall into three types: ‘Great!’, ‘Awful!’ And ‘Not Sure’. The first two are easy to make use of, if you find several people all saying pretty much the same. The third one is more difficult, especially if your pet is in pain, or at risk of life or limb. In this case, the best advice is ‘play safe’ – go to a vet if you haven’t already.

In the end, it is up to you.

Your pet can’t decide – you have to, by law. But they can tell you what they think: watch how they react to the therapist. If you know your pet well, you should be able to understand if he does or doesn’t like him or her. If you don’t know your pet well, it’s a bit more difficult, as animals do remember previous bad experiences that might have nothing to do with the present therapist or their office.

One interesting point that can help is that some therapists treat humans as well as animals. So remember to ask neighbours and animal club people about this too.

Another useful thing to say is: if you start to feel bad about the therapist or the therapy half-way through, follow your gut instinct. This can happen for many reasons, but being persuaded to continue too long is a bad idea. You may say “They are the expert…” But maybe they are not, I reply! Keep your animal safe.