When you find yourself in a state of prolonged psychological distress, it can be overwhelming just thinking about getting professional help. Add to this the dilemma of trying to be sure that you’re actually investing your time and money wisely when you finally do choose a therapist. It can certainly be a daunting task, even more so if undertaken during a time of stress.
There are many factors to consider when selecting a therapist and which therapist to use. This article is by no means exhaustive, and these are mostly issues I’ve had in the past when looking for a good therapist for myself, as well as issues clients have brought up with me about their experiences in searching for a therapist. Certainly, there are many excellent therapists out there working in a variety of different contexts; however, to claim there aren’t dangerous, useless, or outright predatory therapists out there, as well, would be misleading people. Here are five concerns I think anyone seeking therapy ought think carefully about before committing to a therapist.
1. Not all therapists are equal
The first thing to consider when choosing which therapist is good for you is to acknowledge some basic facts: Therapists are people and therapy is a highly personal experience. No two therapists are equal in quality, skillset, and experience. Some therapists are better at dealing with depression, while others will be better at dealing with relationships. Some therapists have a strong moral code (not necessarily religious), while others are moral relativists. Some therapists also have their own issues- a therapist might feel unreasonably envious of pretty women and can’t listen compassionately to a pretty woman talk about how significant her problems are. These therapists might pretend to care, may even do a convincing job of pretending to care, but it is essential that a therapist genuinely cares and does not simply act caring because they are paid to. Your therapist should see you as a whole person, deserving of sincere compassion and understanding.
A common question people ask is where their problems come from. Why do they have sudden panic attacks at work? Why do they yell at their spouse when they don’t want to? Why do they lie when they mean to be honest? Why do they tell people get lost when they really want them to stay? Why do they choose to spend so much time with people who cannot help them to be happy? Why do they not have the motivation to get up in the morning to deal with their problems? The root of all these problems lies in childhood.
This answer appears surprising to many people, though. Most people tend to assume the reason why they feel uncontrollably sad, angry, or guilty is because of the situation or person immediately facing them. In fact, they often think it is all to do with the person or problem facing them and not anything to do with their childhood at all. The other person or the situation is making them feel sad, making them feel angry, and making them feel guilty (See “Who Makes You Feel?”). They are helpless puppets responding to the behaviour of people and situations around them. The idea that their now long distant childhood had something to do with it is actually far from their minds, if it is even something they are aware of as being a factor in their present unhappiness.
How do events that happened to them so long ago continue to affect them? Continue reading
John was running late to work because the bus had broken down. When he arrived at his office he was worried that his boss would be angry at him. He informed her about the bus, but she just frowned and said you cannot control things like that. John felt huge relief and as though his boss cared about him. Mary was trying on clothes in a store and she overheard one of the staff comment on how fat she was. She peeked out the door of the change room and saw that the staff member who had said it was a thin, tall girl, like all the girls in the store. She immediately felt self-conscious about her body and ashamed.
The two little stories above are examples of events that many people have probably experienced at some point in their lives. What I find curious is the different answers I get from people when I ask them, “Who makes John and Mary feel the different emotions they experience?”
Some people will answer that John has no control over how he feels, it is his boss who decides if he will feel relieved or frightened about losing his job based on how she reacts to him being late. In the case of Mary, she is powerless to prevent herself from feeling self-conscious and ashamed when someone calls her fat. The skinny girl makes Mary feel bad about herself.