For those of you taking this journey with me, I encourage you to look deep within yourselves (a seriously honest look) and evaluate if you are truly able to heal on your own. If you are, that is awesome, but if you are not ready or able, then this post is for you.
First of all, and regardless of what social “knowledge” might say, learning and accepting that we might not have the skills/tools to change our situations and ourselves takes courage. It takes even more courage to do something about it. However, doing something entails knowing what to do and knowing what kind of help you are looking for, so… do you?
Some of my clients have told me that they have tried therapy before but it didn’t work. many people swear that therapy is just “mumbo jumbo”. My follow up question always is: What kind of mental health provider did you see? Did you ask some questions before you started to make sure you were a good match? The main reason for these questions is because, unfortunately, most people do not know that counselling is not a one size fits all thing. THERE ARE OPTIONS and those are based on your needs, your personality and how it fits with the professional’s, his/her mission, vision but more importantly, it is about the therapist approach to counselling and their qualifications.
The role or approach of different mental health professionals varies. I realized that most people in my circles do not know the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counsellor and a social worker (those are by the way the four main types of mental health professionals) so that is where I want to start.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, a physician; they have a thorough understanding of physiological body functions and how they relate to mental health and/or the complexity that arises between physical and mental illnesses. They can diagnose and prescribe medication. For example Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD, etc. are some of the conditions for which medications are generally prescribed. A note of caution with medications though: there is no such a thing as a magic pill that will solve all problems. Medication can be very helpful in treating conditions like the above mentioned but the most effective way is (even in those instances) to combine medication with therapy. A few of my clients related that they were assessed, diagnosed and medicated even before they were able to talk to the doctor about their most urgent presenting problem. Obviously, this is not a norm or a rule but it does happen.
A psychologist is not a medical doctor, Guy Winch expands on this in his book “Emotional First Aid” (more on this in my next blog). Psychologists have the expertise to assess, diagnose and treat mental illnesses, personality disorders, learning disabilities and other mental processes as well as behavioural processes. Most of the mental health professionals that you will find when you search (especially in Google) are psychologists and, in Alberta, they can be Registered or Provisional.
A counsellor is a trained mental health professional who helps with problems of living such as depression, anxiety, relationship and family conflicts, etc. or with addictions, childhood issues and much more. Counsellors could come to the profession from different educational backgrounds (ex. teachers -like me-, social workers, nurses, pastors or priests, etc.). A friend of mine once described counsellors as “psychologists without the authority to perform psychological assessment and diagnosis”. I liked the description so I am taking it. : )
Social workers are concerned with the overall wellbeing of the individuals, the family and the community. Many are concerned with the safety of children and other vulnerable individuals (women, seniors, etc.). Social workers can also choose to follow the clinical route and receive the training to become counsellors.
It is not uncommon for people to seek help, for example, to break patterns of behaviour that were established in early childhood or to relieve their depression, anxiety, and other conditions that have spawned out of traumatic events or hard circumstances in the person’s life. Some of those issues can be dealt with in a few sessions but some might take longer to sort out.
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself or your therapist when you are deciding to seek help:
- Is your therapist proposing therapy to be short term or longer-term? What do you think about that? Some professionals would rather work with clients in a certain amount of sessions (short term therapy) and there is nothing wrong with that if that is WHAT YOU NEED. If that is not what you need to implement change in your life, then you need to keep looking.
- Can you see yourself talking about the real YOU with him/her? Opening up and being vulnerable with another person is a very hard thing to do, so choose someone that you feel comfortable and at ease with, some describe it as a certain kind fo ‘friendship’. Studies show that more than experience, the knowledge or the type of intervention that the therapist uses, the main indicator of progress in therapy is the quality of the relationship between therapist and client.
- Ask about what therapeutical approach they use. Many people enter counselling without a clear understanding of the interventions, believes, etc. or theoretical approach that the therapist uses during sessions. There are so many approaches and interventions. CBT, TA, ACT, SFBT, DBT, Gottman (when working with Couples), these are just a few. Inform yourself and ask questions.
- Do they offer a free trial? Some mental health specialists offer a 30 minutes phone or in-person conversation to see if you would be a good fit. Take advantage of that.
Choosing the right mental health professional FOR YOU is a strong indicator of how successful the therapeutic process will be and remember this: “Psychotherapy is the only relationship that you will have in your entire life that exists SOLELY to benefit YOU” (Warren, 2014).
Warren, C. S. (2014). Lies we tell ourselves. Sevierville, TN, USA: Insight Publishing Company.