Though they have dissipated in the last decade to a degree, there are still stigmas regarding the world of mental health. Of those exists the thoughts that therapy is for “crazy people”, “individuals who need medication” or “those who have way too much to say and no one else to talk to”. The reality is that therapy may or may not be for any of those individuals and likewise may be effective for those who are often considered normally (mentally) healthy. Growing up in South Carolina I am very familiar with the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. While this maxim has proven very true in many instances, there are times when it doesn’t necessarily apply. I believe therapy to be included in this list.
Let’s switch gears for a moment and think about a scenario involving an automobile mechanic (pardon the pun). You speak to a mechanic over the phone and discuss with him the fact that your headlights do not work. The mechanic schedules you an appointment. When your car is returned to you, you are told that the issue with the lights has been repaired, so you render thanks (i.e. $). Before you leave you ask the mechanic what the issue was and he tells you that the problem was corrosion in your car’s fuse box.
Hold on a minute…you came for your headlights and he spent the last hour working on your fuse box? The point here is that while there are common issues that arise with individuals and families, those “in the mix” may not clearly understand the root of those problems. The mechanic could have changed the light bulbs, installed new wires and even changed your tires, but until he fixed the actual problem with the fuse box, the headlights would have never operated properly.
Yes, as a client, therapy at times may seem like a process that involves “going around your hip to get to your elbow.” So how do you find a therapist? In all actuality, many people go about it very similarly to how they arrive at finding “their” mechanic. People often consider items like location, reputation and cost(s). And while this process is understandable, it may not be inclusive. All therapists are not created equal.
The mechanic analogy is a great one, because it applies in so many ways. Another example is that many auto mechanics have specialties, whether it’s a specific make of vehicle, a specific component, etc. This holds true for therapy as well, though there are some “jack of all trades” out there, therapists may be better suited to work with clients with certain concerns or issues. When seeking a therapist, I encourage you to conduct some amount of research pertaining to the specialties of the practitioner. This may include contacting them directly.
Some therapists have the ability to utilize objectivity and empathy with a nearly artful balance, allowing “hard truths” to descend at the rate of the feather on Forest Gump (1994). Therapists can be practical, eccentric, rigid, playful, exotic…you name it. A therapist’s “style” is typically a mixture of their personality and the model(s) of therapy they practice. As a client, it is critical that you are comfortable with your therapist but you must understand that while personable may be comfortable, it does not necessarily mean therapeutic.
Let’s face it, a person seeking therapy is looking for something which they perceive they cannot offer themselves. The client’s goal going into therapy is, to at the end of the session or through the course of therapy, feel better…BE better. Unfortunately, the best understanding a client will get of what a particular therapist can offer is to participate in the process. This means paying for something that may or may not work. Here are a few tips for narrowing your options through conducting research, telephonic inquiries or attending a consultation.
- Trained – Often you can learn a great deal about a therapist’s level of training from the internet. Company websites, business review pages, LinkedIn and other social media sites may offer insight into the level and type of training a therapist has attended. Consider the scholastic reputation of institutions of which the therapist is affiliated. Programs which are evaluated and accredited by notable organizations and entities may elude to the quality of the educational and training experiences thereof. In general, therapists are required to participate in continued education annually in order to maintain licensure. Because these educational experiences are chosen by the therapist, such experiences can reveal some of the therapist’s recent interests and/or concerns.
- Experienced – Not to be confused with how long a therapist has been in the profession. Time and experience can often be uncorrelated concepts. To determine the type of experience a therapist has consider what they claim as “specialties”. Experience in itself does not make a therapist suited for all clients; however, it may allude to a level of comfort and proficiency with their work, an ability to adapt and generally represent their “brand”. Therapists are as diverse as their experiences, a key to aligning yourself with an appropriate therapist is to discover their success with issues similar to your own. Experience is a progressive step from the training environment which leads to the next topic…
- Competent – Very easy to agree with but possibly not as easy to identify as one would imagine. Competence can initially be masked by accolades, fast talk and promises of success. While a clean and inviting office environment, polite administrative staff, short wait times and a nice business suit may allude to a professional environment, these may not necessarily be clues of therapeutic competence. Competence speaks directly to the therapist ability to use therapeutic intervention to assist a client with attaining goals. Testimonials and reputation are great gauges of competence.
- Culturally appropriate – While it is incumbent for therapists to be attentive to ethnic and multicultural diversity, the truth is that some therapists are more suited for a specific gender, race or ethnic group. This is not to say that you should strive to find a therapist who is similar to you because that is not necessarily the best fit based simply on racial identity. There are indeed individuals who are not “of” the group of which they work with best. Go beyond the surface when looking for a therapist, the best therapist for you may not look like you and may not be located on a side of town you frequent.
- Ethical – There is no greater must in therapy. The ethical considerations of the therapist should be outlined and discussed as a part of an informed consent process which precedes therapy. Though your personal ideals may not be directly aligned with those of the therapist, it is the therapist’s responsibility to conduct therapy in a manner that is not offensive or harmful to you (the client). The counseling professional you choose will likely be affiliated with a licensing body based on the credentials they hold. These licensing and professional organizations set the minimal standards for ethical conduct. Find more on ethics from the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.
- Credentialed – Often mistakenly equated with competence, in actuality, credentials more closely relate to training. I am adding a note regarding credentials because the list of acronyms associated with many of these professionals can be confusing. The truth is that the credentials of a therapist are more relevant to other counseling professionals than they should be to clients. These credentials essentially align counselors with specific governing agencies and/or organizations. As a client, you are protected by the organizations with which licensed and credentialed therapists are affiliated. Don’t be confused by credentials, or get bogged down trying to sort them all out. For clients, the most relevancy of a therapist’s credentials may be the limitations regarding insurance coverage or reimbursement. Additionally, clients should understand that they may contact relevant credentialing bodies to report unethical conduct of a therapist.
Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.