How to find a Therapist?
Searching for a qualified therapist should require the same time and effort as searching for any other healthcare professional. In many states, literally anyone can call himself or herself a therapist or psychotherapist–and literally have no more than a degree in basket weaving! It is very important to ask for credentials. For a social worker, look for a MSW (Master’s Degree in Social Work), and/or LSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). For a psychologist, look for a Ph.D. or Ed.D. (Doctor of Philosophy or Dr. of Education) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Clinical Psychology). Preferably, you would like to see their license, if it is not displayed on the wall of their office. For a psychiatrist, look for an M.D. (Medical Doctor) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy), with a residency in psychiatry. It is important to note that many psychiatrists are not therapists, but perform medical evaluations. More are beginning to delve into the therapeutic arena.
In doing your research, look for the particular modality in which the therapist has been trained. It might be behavior modification, psychoanalysis, existentialism or a humanistic approach. This can be important; for example, if looking to treat for a phobia, a behavior modification approach may be preferred.
Gender: Which sex is best? Not necessarily the sex with whom you feel most comfortable. I have had situations where I have been the therapist, having gone as far as I could in the therapeutic process, the patient having reached their goals, but I felt there were some other underlying issues that would best be addressed by a female therapist, and so referred my patient on to a female therapist. I believe experience is extremely important. I do not refer anyone to a therapist unless the therapist has had a minimum of 5 years experience. Or they have to be highly recommended from an individual in the field whom I trust. A seasoned therapist who has seen hundreds of patients through the years is better able to assess what is happening with a patient.
Please be advised that a therapist may meet all of the criteria mentioned above, and the therapeutic experience unsuccessful. Patients and therapists don’t always gel, if you will. Subsequently, I always tell individuals when I refer them not to be surprised if after they have gone a few sessions, they may have to switch therapists, until they find a therapist that “fits,” that they can do the dance with. This is crucially important.
Please remember: Your therapist is not your friend. Your therapist is your therapist. Subsequently your therapist can be objective, which is crucial. It is far more difficult for a friend to offer the same objectivity.
What is a Bad Therapist?
After being in the health care field for greater than thirty years I have had experience with many therapists of all degrees and all genders. I have also been on the other side of the fence, and as a patient have went through numerous therapists finding the one where I would have a trusting relationship. As in any profession there are good and bad therapists. With therapists or counselors there needs to be an authentic aura about them. Some are very dogmatic, and rigid, others have minimal boundaries and believe in friendships outside the therapy arena. For the brevity of this article and to give you the best advice as possible I will stick with the extremes. Clearly there are therapy modalities where the personality of the therapist is not as important, ie: Behavioral modification, psychoanalysis, and strict medication management. Classic therapy where there is the one to one dance if you will is much more crucial when it comes to their interaction.
Therapists who present with the constant smile plastered on their face and frequently ask, “How does that make you feel?” causes nausea to occur in my stomach as goose bumps appear on my arms as if someone scraped their fingernails on a blackboard. In graduate school I was able to witness students that were straight “A” students in academia; however had the social graces in therapy of a bull in a china shop. Some even appeared as a deer in headlights, frightened out of their mind, especially when the intensity increased. REMEMBER, YOU ARE THE CONSUMER! IF YOU DO NOT LIKE YOUR THERAPIST, SWITCH. You should not feel obligated, if there is not a connection it is unlikely it will happen.
Beware of the therapist that speaks more than you in session. These are usually therapists that enjoy hearing their own voice. Be aware of therapists that frequently disclose their own personal agenda, or disclose their personal life. Granted there are times this is appropriate, however if you leave therapy feeling as if you just treated the therapist, well…. You need to seek out a different one.
Do research for your therapists. Many health care providers are well aware of good and bad therapists. Ask around, the medical community, it is small in all towns. The bad therapist always surfaces to the top. Word does travel fast. Look for a therapist with experience. The credentials in my opinion are of the least importance. I have had excellent social workers who I continue to refer to, as well as doctorate level therapists. Humility equals wisdom, not the amount of schooling.
What is a Good Therapist?
A good therapist is person who can connect with the patient on a variety of levels; someone who can focus on spiritual, emotional and physical issues. A good therapist has the ability of true empathy. They do not put on a used car salesman face and they do not ingratiate the individual with false presentations. I am frequently asked about Christian therapists. I have the same response for twenty-five years. There are good Christian therapists and bad ones. “God can save your soul but not your ass.” Is my comment to patients in the ministry. I have treated priests who were diagnosed as pedophiles and ask where is my Lord? When I respond in my firm but blatant response, they do listen. I have not had one Christian leave my practice with the above comment.
Individuals also ask,” should ex-addicts and alcoholics be counselors, because they have experienced the pain? There are excellent counselors who have abused, however one does not need to be an abuser to understand the trials and tribulations of addiction. A good therapist should be prompt, not miss appointments and be available for crisis intervention. A good therapist understands the pain and suffering, it is not a stretch for them to reach out and be a good traffic cop. A good therapist gives direction as a traffic cop, allowing the patient to find their own way. A good therapist will NOT give the easy answers, and allow the patient to work through their own issues.
The disclosure in therapy can be synonymous to a horrific thunderstorm. The amount of power and explosiveness released in the form of lightning, thunder, wind, torrential rains that pour out can be intense and overwhelming, when released. The release can be as calming as a sun breaking through the clouds. The rain that falls on the earth helps all living things grow. Subsequently, the disclosure of intense issues in therapy, after being penned in for so long, clearly helps in the personal growth of one’s self-esteem, and empowers one to be stronger down the road.