I am often asked by friends and acquaintances how they should go about finding a mental health professional to work with that will be helpful to them. The following is a list of suggestions that in my opinion greatly improve the probability of a successful outcome so you get the help you need.
1. You may choose to work with a variety of different types of therapists that can be of service if you are experiencing emotional distress. You may wish to find a Life Coach on your own who specializes in whatever area you have a need. There are Life Coaches who will help you with weight loss , or overcoming grief, or simply making the transition to retirement. Many of these folks have some formal training and perhaps a related life experience and may do be very helpful. One drawback in working with a Life Coach is that they are not as well educated, licensed, or held accountable as those mental health professionals who have gone through a formal graduate school for several years, been subjected to rigorous academic training, and often studied as an intern under a professional mentor for several years before taking their state licensure examination which is generally very rigorous and requires an excellent knowledge of the field one is about to be licensed in. It is my strong suggestion that you choose to work with a licensed professional social worker, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. These licensed professionals are in most cases imminently well qualified to provide help in their areas of specialization. You can verify their academic qualifications by contacting the Missouri State Licensure board and check to see if they are in good standing because of their academic training as well as checking to see if there have ever been any complaints against them filed with the state.
2. Your therapist needs to have specific training and experience in the area of your need. For example there are therapists who work strictly with children and many have certifications in "play therapy" that gives them tremendous skills in communicating with and treating children who may not be capable of talking coherently about their issues. Like wise there are psychologists who specialize in working in court on Forensic cases and spend time testifying in court after they have done a great deal of study and evaluation of their client.
3. It is usually best to find a therapist who has themselves had some personal issues that are similar to your own that they have overcome. For example, it is widely known that recovering alcoholics with a long history of sobriety make very good drug and alcohol counselors because they have fought that battle for sobriety and have great empathy as well as insights as to what really works. Likewise psychologists like myself, who has battled and overcome anxiety issues, are well suited to work with clients with similar issues because the empathy and compassion that the psychologists feel comes from their own painful experiences and the development of their own coping skills out of their trial and error find things that worked well for them.
4. Your therapist needs to have some sort of accessible reviews available to you from their past client's experience with them. There are a number of online services that review healthcare professionals. One of the better known ones is www.healthgrades.com.
5. Your therapist should have a good bedside manner. That means that they can tell you the truth in a way that does not offend or terrify you to the point that you cannot act on the information in a constructive manner. A good principle is to find a therapist that is honest and yet very kind and careful in the manner that they say things that are important to your learning.
6. Your therapist should explain how "confidentiality works" and your rights as a client under the H.I.P.P.A. laws so that none of your personal information can be exposed to your physician, family, or the public
without your written consent.
7. You therapist needs to explain to you that they do have the responsibility as a "mandated reporter" to report to authorities any statement that you make that would indicate that you intend to hurt yourself, another adult, a child, or an elderly person. If you make such a statement to your therapist expect that they will have to alert authorities that you have become a potential danger to yourself or others.
8. Your therapist needs to focus on what specifically you want to accomplish in therapy. If for example you are having five panic or anxiety attacks a week and you want to dramatically reduce these to only one or none per week be sure to state that as a goal. The more clearly your stated intention or goal is worded the better the therapist can help you reach your goals.
9. Your therapist needs to take a thorough history of your past including your childhood and your family of origin in addition to those successes and challenges you have had as an adult. It is very helpful to fill out an inventory of your symptoms, how long you have had them, and then do some objective testing to establish a diagnosis. Just as you do with a physician on your first couple of visits your therapist needs to establish a baseline of information in getting to know what is normal behavior for you and what specifically you want to change.
10. Working with a therapist is a "team effort" in that both of you will need to work hard to communicate with each other and work together to find what coping skills work best for you. In truth it is a matter of trial and error. Your therapist may know 50 coping skills to help you solve your problem but you will have to work together to see which ones fit your needs best and are the most effective for you. One size does not fit all clients.
11. You will want to have a therapist that you feel cares about you and one that you can trust. You need to feel free to ask any question that comes to mind (there are no stupid questions) and you need to feel that you can identify with your therapist in some significant manner (perhaps you are about the same age, the same sex, similar socioeconomic lifestyles have lived in the same area, have similar recreational interests etc).
12. Therapists are not god like in any manner. They don't profess to know everything about you or exactly what you need to do to overcome your issues. However, they should be skilled in working with you to help you find out what works best for you. As a result they will probably ask you to do quite a bit of reading and work outside the client session. This may include keeping a journal, reading a specific book or workbook, or having very specific homework assignments. There will be moments of joy at having overcome a long standing bad habit but there may also be moments when you feel frustrated and want to quit therapy altogether. It may be one of the hardest things that you try to do in your life but when you are done most clients look back and thank their therapists for sticking with them and encouraging them to find the answers that they were sinking by pushing themselves past their fears and trying some totally different approaches to their problems.
13. Certainly feel free to talk to your therapist if you think that they are pushing you too hard and making too many demands on you to perform in the therapy session when you really just need to come in and dump all your frustrations on a kind and compassionate listener. There are times in therapy to push as a client and their are times in therapy where you simply need a "safe place" to unload the emotional pain of our life. It is very important that you discuss this topic with your therapist so that both of you can pace the intensity of the work in therapy so it compliments but does not complicate the rest of your life outside of the 50 minutes you talk with your therapist.
14. Lastly, if you have been to a therapist for six sessions and don't feel that you are making any progress ask for a referral to another therapist. Conversely if you have been seeing a therapist for several years and you are hearing the same old thing from your well known therapist you may also need to ask to be referred to another therapist simply because you may have exhausted all the information that that particular therapist has to offer.
15. I hope that this has been of interest to you. If you have more questions please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 417-881-1580.