As a therapist I get calls from people when they are confronting some sort of crisis. The kinds of crises that come up usually involve relationship; either with the self or with a significant other. Sometimes an individual is calling for help because they can no longer cope with the symptoms that are causing some significant change in their ability to function at work, in the family and personal relationships– or in society as a whole.
When I receive such a call, I use a set of filters that help me provide the most effective, responsive care to the caller. First of all, I am professionally obligated to get a sense from the caller whether or not their current state requires an immediate intervention in which case I direct them to call 911. This response may be necessary when there is an indication that someone’s physical well-being is in danger.
Once it has been established that there is no emergency present, my next assessment as a provider is to find out if my area of expertise is a good fit for them. If the caller has insurance I also want to screen for eligibility since they may have a plan in which I do not participate. Given the complexity of insurance coverage it’s in my interest, as well as the client’s, to clarify what financial arrangements need to be made for the services being requested. I typically ask where the caller found my name, to find out if it’s a referral, simply a choice from an Internet search, or a result of looking through the Psychology Today website. Also, I’m trying to sort out if they have available times that match my schedule. This is particularly significant if it’s a call for couples therapy since it requires both partners to coordinate their calendars. So, if you’re calling to find a therapist it would be a good idea to know the answers to some of these questions.
So, what do you need to know about the task of finding a therapist? I’d like to offer some guidelines about how you might go through this process in a way that will allow you to end up with a good fit. Using the suggestions above in addition to further preparations may help you determine the best way for you to find the right therapist.
For example, every therapist incorporates a particular approach to their work with clients. I would suggest learning a little about which of three major approaches to therapy might best suit your particular preference. These are the psychoanalytic approach, the cognitive-behavioral approach, and the humanistic approach.
Therapists that come from the psychoanalytic school are grounded in the work of Freud and Jung and are more likely to see your experience through the template of the Ego/Id and Superego. These are viewed as different parts of the self that need to become familiar with each other and learn how to get along better. This process can take some time before one may begin to perceive any practical solutions. An extreme example of this would be how Woody Allen portrays this experience in his movies where he may meet with his therapist as many as three times a week, sitting on the couch talking while the therapist takes notes. This process could go on for many months and perhaps years.
Cognitive behavioral therapists use the model introduced by BF Skinner and others and might help you examine how you learned to respond to certain stimuli and might teach clients how to implement new, desirable responses to replace the dysfunctional ones that may be causing your symptoms.
A Humanistic approach, from the work of Albert Maslow and Carl Rogers, would focus on one’s capacity to make choices and to develop maximum potential. An essential element of this therapy is the unconditional acceptance of the client’s experience and the way he or she makes meaning that frustrates or fulfills them.
My suggestion would be to consider some criteria other than the school of therapy that your perspective clinician comes from. This is a process and all the information one needs may not be available from the first phone call or even the first appointment. Most therapists would agree that a fundamental aspect of the work is to establish a strong, trusting relationship with each client. This process may take more than just a few sessions and it is primarily the therapist’s responsibility to attend to this requirement. That means most therapists will expect to hear from a client about their comfort level. It will help if you can check in with them about your level of trust as sessions go forward. A good therapist will even help you find a better fit if it turns out that a more specific type of therapy is indicated. So connect with a professional that makes you feel heard or feel confident to explore other options once you have a sense whether or not this is a person you can work with.
My own evolution as a therapist has led me to a preference for the humanistic school of thinking and in particular what is referred to as Transpersonal Psychology. This offshoot is one of several in the Humanistic domain that also includes Existential and Gestalt psychology. An essential aspect of this approach is based on defining the Self as more than the Ego/Persona. This kind of therapy assists the person to function well in their social environment and also prioritizes and devotes treatment resources to a more essential definition of what it is to be human. This allows for grounding experience on a more solid footing with new options and resources to restore mental wellness. Reality remains the same–one still has to deal with what might be unfair life circumstances, but now there is a new composure that makes them much more bearable.
Typically, it turns out that most of us may need help in managing our adjustment to predictable and unpredictable changes in our lives. Change is unavoidable and when it comes unexpectedly or catches us with inadequate psychological, social and emotional resources finding a guide to help us navigate the unfamiliar can be a lifesaver. In the process we may be fortunate to discover vital parts of ourselves that have been neglected or that we had to ignore in order to meet the demands of family, and cultural expectations. Having the opportunity to recover the self that had always been our birthright may come about as the result of uncomfortable emotions. It may require some difficult work but it is too wonderful a gift to pass up. No matter at what point in one’s s life it becomes available it deserves your attention. Why not start today… you owe it to yourself!