ABOUT SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP
Sometimes our problems are more than we alone can or should cope with. Perhaps you are dealing with a serious crisis. Or maybe you're having trouble accomplishing the goals that are important to you in life. Or you realize that you are feeling too sad, too down, for too long - and are perhaps depressed. Or very anxious. Or maybe things just aren't going right for you. And you're having trouble sleeping - a sign that maybe there's more trouble under the surface. Perhaps you're dealing with the illness or death of a loved one. Or marital problems or a divorce. Or prolonged unemployment. Or serious financial problems. Or substance abuse - or other kinds of abuse.
There's no shortage of problems we can have in life.
Maybe you've spoken to a few friends about your problems, perhaps you've read some books and tried some remedies - but so far the issues remain unresolved and still troubling to you. You're starting to think that maybe you need professional help. The first thing to understand is that there's nothing shameful about seeking professional help for your emotional problems. After all, if you were physically ill, would you hesitate to get help from a doctor? Of course not. Emotional problems are as much a part of life as physical illness.
EVERYBODY'S GOT PROBLEMS
This is just one of the facts of life. But when those problems become serious or overwhelming or too distressing, it's time to seek professional help.
Just acknowledging that your problem - or problems - are bigger than you - more than you can cope with successfully on your own, is the first step towards healthy functioning. You're attempting to view things realistically and constructively - that is with a view towards helping yourself to good resolutions.
Well, congratulations for starters - for taking such a positive step - a very important constructive step - and the beginning of turning things around for yourself. In that way it's really a very significant, very positive step. Ok - so - Where do you go? What do you do? Who do you talk to?
There are many, many sources of help these days. A good place to start is by asking your medical doctor for a referral to someone good. You should be checking with your doctor if you have any physical symptoms such as insomnia. And so your doctor is a logical place to start your search for good professional therapy. You can also call most hospitals for a list of psychotherapists - and you can call any university with a training program for psychotherapists.
There are also many clinics, therapy centers and referral services listed in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. Look under "psychotherapists" and also under "psychologists." And, of course, there are websites for all the professional organizations. (You can start with our Links of Interest segment.)
If you have a friend who has a therapist he or she likes, you might ask your friend to ask her therapist for a referral to another therapist. You wouldn't want to go to the same therapist as your friend - that's not a good idea and is usually not considered professional - but good therapists usually know other good therapists.
It's a good idea to get two or three names.
We suggest that you talk to more than one therapist - in person - before settling on the one you're going to work with.
Now then - how do you know which therapist is the right one - the best one - for you?There are three main characteristics that we believe you should seek in a Psychotherapist.
1. First is adequate professional training - which would mean to begin with, State Certification and some kind of advanced degree in psychotherapy or psychology - that is, a Masters Degree - along with supervised clinical training.
If your therapist is still in training, that's ok, as long as he or she is being supervised by advanced professionals. Some therapists have a Phd. - a doctorate - usually in Psychology. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to treat emotional and mental problems and disease. Only a psychiatrist or other medical doctor can prescribe medication.
However, if your therapist is not a medical doctor he or she will likely have resources to refer you to for medication, if that is called for. Many therapists have masters degrees in Social Work - an MSW. Some therapists specialize in Family Therapy - in which the problems of individuals are worked out through understanding the relationships within the family.
2. We recommend that you seek out someone who practices with personal integrity and competence. But, you ask, how can I tell if someone has personal integrity and competence? The first line of defense is proper credentials - someone with a postgraduate degree who's been through a recognized training program with supervision from experienced high level professionals.
Assuming you've gone to the right clinic or program to get someone good - and the person appears to have the correct credentials, how can you tell beyond that if this is the right therapist for you?
To some extent you're going to have to trust your own instincts and judgement. A therapist who is professional and competent will probably appear that way from the beginning of your first session. He/she will ask key questions that lead you to productive answers. He/she will treat your presentation in a thoughtful, intelligent manner and will make suggestions for treatment that sound reasonable to you. Like a medical doctor, the therapist will have the demeanor of a professional who takes your problems seriously and presents a sensible course of treatment.
(By the way, "he" may well be a "she," of course, as you know.)
As therapy is such a personal issue, if you have a preference for a female or a male therapist, you are entitled to state that - something you should do during the initial interview.
3. You should try and find someone who feels right to you - someone whom you feel comfortable with - whom you feel has some kind of special understanding of you. One therapist describes this as a certain "click." It's important to realize that therapy, while it's based on a great deal of study and clinical expertise, is an art as well as a science. There are many subtle and undefinable aspects as to what makes one practitioner better for you than another.
This is why it's important to interview more than one therapist before settling on the one you're going to work with. You want to choose someone who feels very "right" to you. Though a therapist is different from a friend or a mate - choosing the right one for you may require some of the same judgements. You don't have to love your therapist - but it helps if you like the therapist or, at least, get a good feeling about the person.
When we mention professional demeanor, as above, we certainly do not mean someone "cold" or distant. Not at all. This person, to whom you are going to confide your deepest, most personal thoughts, must be someone who seems to you to have warmth, understanding and compassion. And also, clearly, must be a person you feel you will eventually come to trust.
Trust can take a while to build. But if you feel that this is someone you might be able to trust, down the line - or that you have confidence you will come to trust, down the line - that's a good indication.
The other part of the "click" you're looking for is a sense that this person can help you. That the questions he or she has asked and the answers given to your questions have been intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable, helpful and constructive. You want a sense that the therapist has understood what you've said and has replied in a careful, thoughtful, knowledgeable and constructive manner, suited to you.
Don't be afraid to ask the therapist how she works and what you should expect during the treatment. You should both understand and agree on your goals.
During the course of therapy your therapist may say things to you that you don't understand - that maybe sound strange to you. This is not necessarily an indication that your therapist is not good. In fact, part of the process of therapy is opening up to ideas that you may find new and strange and difficult at first.
Working with your therapist is the key to getting the most out of the process. If you feel something your therapist says is a bit strange, you should tell the therapist how you feel so the two of you will have an opportunity to discuss it. Often bringing up difficult issues gives a very real sense of how good the therapist is for you. You might be surprised at how helpful her answers are to your concerns.
And from those answers, and your interaction with the therapist, and your growing trust of this person, ideally the two of you will go on to build a therapeutic partnership - which is the constructive relationship within which you will be able to grow and make positive changes in your life.
On the other hand, if you feel the answers are not that helpful or satisfactory, or you don't feel comfortable with this therapist, and don't feel a sense that you will ultimately trust him or her, you should either cease the sessions or consult someone else whom you find knowledgeable and trustworthy - to go over your feelings and assessments and to help you decide what would be the best course of action.
If you have a sense that this person is immature, or has poor judgment or doesn't respond to your questions and comments in a way that seems helpful and constructive to you, or doesn't seem to really understand you, or shows little patience with you - these are signs that the therapist may not be the right one for you.
You also might want to do some research about therapy by looking at some of the books available in bookstores and libraries that explain how to find a therapist. You can learn a lot from these books.
What are some of the problems you might encounter with a therapist? It's tricky - because therapists are human beings too - and many of them have plenty of their own problems - which is their right - to some extent. But they should know enough about their own problems - and have them resolved enough - that they don't bring them into the sessions with you.
You are not there to help your therapist with his or her problems. Any therapist who describes his or her own problems in any detail during your session is the wrong therapist - that is, not adequately professional - and we advise you to seek someone else.
The nature of seeking help from a therapist is that you will be paying for help with your problems - help from someone professional who has resolved enough of his/her own problems to be helpful to you.
Any therapist who shares his or her problems with you - except for the most minor ones - such as that it's difficult to travel about in a blizzard or it sure is raining hard, or something on that order - anything beyond that is inappropriate and unprofessional. You're both there to work on your problems, not on the shrink's problems.
And you're not there to be a friend to your shrink. No matter how much you like your therapist, you're there for professional help - not friendship. Any therapist who attempts to get too involved with your life - for instance, who offers to go with you to look for an apartment - or who offers to call your mother and explain your views to her - is a poor choice for someone to help you.
The therapist's job is to help you understand your problems and to open up new ways for you to see yourself and help yourself handle things better. You definitely do not want someone who is going to try to do your job for you - that's not helping you at all - and it's totally unprofessional.
Any therapist who in any way makes a suggestive or sexual move towards you is a therapist to avoid at all cost. It is a paramount ‘no-no' of professional behavior to in any way engage in any sexual or intimate contact whatsoever.
Not only should you leave such a therapist, you should also report him/her to any institute or professional association s/he is attached to. For this reason you might want to spend a few minutes actually reading the diplomas that are displayed in the therapist's office so you can have some idea what his or her background and professional affiliations are.
In fact, you might want to get that information even before entering the office. This information is listed in various directories in your local library. Or, go to the various websites for professional organizations. (Check out our Links of Interest segment.)
We also urge you to be leery of any psychiatrist who wants to treat your emotionally based problems with just medication - without psychotherapy. We believe that everyone has emotional issues that affect his or her psychology and physiology and while medications can help a great deal, it seems to us that it's most beneficial to also work out your emotional issues with a therapist any time they might be playing a role in your physio/psychological condition.
Life is hard - people are complex - and we've all got our issues and problems. Most of us could use all the help we can get in understanding ourselves and getting our heads straightened out so we can deal effectively with our lives and our loved ones. This is our belief, very strongly.
Once you have a strong sense that a therapist is not for you, you probably ought to trust your own judgement and seek out someone else. We urge you, though, not to get discouraged.
If, after a long search, you're unable to find anyone who's right for you - well, that may be an indication that the problem is not with the therapists but with you. You may have to do some work within yourself resolving that issue enough to proceed to find someone you can work with.
It may be just a matter of time. There are many fine therapists out there - you just need a bit of perseverence to find the one who's right for you.
It's important to understand that effective psychotherapy is, as a general rule, not exactly a picnic. In therapy you will be looking at the forces that have shaped your life and your problems. You'll examine your childhood and your family life, of course - because that is the primary force that has shaped you into the person you are. But you will also be examining your own actions and attitudes and decisions, conscious and unconscious, especially as they affect your life and your problems.
This is not always a comfortable process, although it's a tremendously helpful - necessary - process if you are to grow and change and make your life better. If you get into deep psychotherapy where you are exploring core issues within your psyche, you're likely at some point to experience some real pain. That pain, though, can be a sign that you are dealing with important fundamental issues that will have a profound impact on how you lead your life - and it probably means you are making significant progress.
That's why it's so important to work with a therapist who is well trained, talented, of impeccable integrity and whom you can trust with confidence. And that's also why it will take perseverence on your part to hang in there and work through your issues - even though there is some discomfort and at times pain, involved - so you can get maximum benefit out of your therapy.
In the end, if you work hard with someone good, you should be able to come to new understandings about yourself, your family and your patterns in life - and to make significant changes that will affect your life - for the better - for the rest of your life.
It's a wonderful, positive, constructive step - and you are truly to be congratulated for moving forward in that way.
We wish you the best.
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