Deborah Reeves, MGPGP, LPC, CGP states that, “Finding the best trained therapist is an excellent investment in one’s future. Effective psychotherapy can help resolve conflict(s) and can greatly assist in helping all people to gain the emotional and cognitive tools necessary to better solve future problems.”
There are times when a therapist is just what you need so never hesitate in confiding in one. Remember though, that therapy is not magic, a therapist is not there to solve all your problems and they are not there to make decisions for you. And, if you think that counselors and therapists are all the same, than think again.
Usually by the time you are ready to seek the advice or counsel of a therapist you are at your wits end. So, before you make that phone call here are some suggestions on how to proceed and what to look for. I decided to do some research in order to provide a layman’s guide to choosing a therapist.
With the assistance of several well-respected counselors, therapists and psychologists I’ve bundled some great information together that I think is beneficial. David A. Reinstein, LCSW who is a clinical social worker psychotherapist as well as a mental wellness coach, staff trainer and parenting educator offered some expert advice on this topic.
David has been a therapist, trainer and supervisor of therapists for many years, so he’s come to understand that the ‘fit’ between the client and therapist is essential to any successful treatment. He says that it is important that there is a mutual respect and that you as the client have a clear understanding of the nature of therapy, how it works and what is required of each participant.
What should you look for?
You might be surprised to learn that the law does not require a degree in order for someone to become a therapist or counselor, which is fine but you should know that up front the level of experience that your counselor has and what methods they use or practice. Psychotherapy cannot simply be learned out of a book or in a classroom. You want a therapist who has some experience under their belt and that you feel comfortable with. Although, a psychologist may not necessarily be a better therapist than a licensed professional counselor it’s up to you to check out their credibility and beliefs carefully before beginning therapy.
Within a reasonable amount of time you should be making progress however, if you’re not making progress, it might be time to re-evaluate some new goals. It’s okay to ask questions and its okay to expect answers. Keep an open dialogue.
Your time is valuable and so is theirs’ so be a respecter of time. Remember, there are no guarantees that a therapist is responsible, informed or even sane, and it might be in your best interest to seek someone out who has a master’s or a doctorate in a field of mental health (e.g., MA, MS, MSW, PhD, PsyD, MD).
Finding a good fit
There are many extraordinary therapists out there and when you are in need of some counseling it is to your benefit to do a little research and ask a few questions, after all you are trusting them with your utmost secrets. Your therapist should be just that, “your” therapist not your buddy or your pal, keep the relationship professional. And, don’t be afraid of a therapist who challenges you to take responsibility for your life, your choices, and your future that is always better than one who teaches you to blame all problems on other people and your past. And, if you have one negative session I wouldn’t suggest you terminate or switch therapist, one bad session is not necessarily an indicator that things are wrong.
David A. Reinstein has written several articles, one in which he states that, A therapist’s job is to help reduce suffering and increase the likelihood of healthy choice making. Beliefs, behaviors or attitudes that do not facilitate this goal are damaging to the likelihood of healing. But, he warns that even after what seems a good beginning has been made, there are some critical tell-tale signs that the ‘match’ may not be the right one for you.”
A check list by Reinstein, warning signs that it might not be a good fit
I want to provide you with David’s check list once you have found a therapist.
1. “Forgets important information you have told them in recent sessions.”
2. “Confuses their own experiences with those of yours.”
3. “Becomes too reliant on a ‘favorite’ diagnosis which seems to be the case more often than not with more clients than not.”
4. “Believes that when it comes to treatment, that one particular intervention or technique is the right way to go with most clients most of the time.”
5. “Seems to over identify with or take the side of one or another family member (most commonly found in couples and family therapy situations) and refuses to openly discuss the concerns that this perception/reality is generating in one or more of the other clients.”
6. ‘˜Reacts to a client’s questions, concerns or criticisms defensively.”
7. “Discusses work with other clients who are not directly involved in your therapy.”
8. “Seems interested in and open to developing a personal relationship with you.”
9. “Coaches, gives advice or in other ways tries to actively lead you to a presumed ‘correct’ decision.”
10. “Fails to identify the need for consultation for a particularly complex or challenging situation and/or failing to recognize the need for the involvement of another discipline in the necessary treatment of a client.”
11. “Does not listen.”
12. “Believes (and communicates by words or attitude) that the difference between themselves and you is more than education, role and position in the relationship.”
What do you do if it is not a good fit?
I want to remind those patients that have had a negative experience not to become discouraged. Don’t give up if you fall into the hands of a therapist that you do not feel is the correct fit, it is your prerogative to switch therapist if you are not feeling that it is working. But, there are a few guidelines that you should be aware of and if your therapist crosses the line than it is time to look for a new therapist. Those red flags are as follows.
1. Sexual relations of any kind are unacceptable between a therapist and a patient.
2. Your beliefs, religious or political stance should be respected and never ridiculed.
3. A therapist should never make you feel disrespected and you should never be bullied into a response.
4. Remember, if it is not a good fit it is okay to acknowledge that, and to request a new therapist. If your therapist calls you once you have ceased this professional relationship that is not acceptable.
5. Dr. Paul McHugh, Chair of the Psychiatry Department at Johns Hopkins University Hughes strongly suggests that one should avoid any psychiatrists or therapist that engages in any ‘memory recovery techniques’.
Dr. McHugh, goes on to say that such ‘memory recovery techniques’ may include drug-mediated interviews, hypnosis, regression therapies, guided imagery, ‘body memories’, literal dream interpretation and journaling. There is no evidence that the use of consciousness-altering techniques, such as drug-mediated interviews or hypnosis, can reveal or accurately elaborate factual information about any past experiences including childhood sexual abuse. Techniques of regression therapy including ‘age regression’ and hypnotic regression are of unproven effectiveness.
Dr. McHughs warns, “It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources …. Memories can be significantly influenced by questioning, especially in young children. Memories also can be significantly influenced by a trusted person (e.g., therapist, parent involved in a custody dispute) who suggests abuse as an explanation for symptoms/problems, despite initial lack of memory of such abuse. It has also been shown that repeated questioning may lead individuals to report “memories” of events that never occurred.”
If you have serious doubts about your current therapist or the therapy they are using, it is wise to get a second opinion from a responsible, licensed medical professional like your family doctor.
If there is unethical behavior you should file a complaint with a licensing board. Most importantly, if you do have had a bad experience, that should not keep you from seeking help in the future.
Seeking wise counsel is a sign of maturity and humility.