The first part of this series is “Do I need a therapist?”
Finding the right therapist is of immense importance, if you’ve decided to opt for therapy. You’ll find you don’t know who to go for, in the beginning. Should I see a psychiatrist or a psychologist or just a counsellor? This is an easy one actually. Personally, I prefer going to a psychologist first, mostly because I want to avoid medication as much as I can. Unfortunately, I have seen the difference between a non-medicated me and a medicated me and I have to say, it really helps to have my focus in order and my moods under control. So, while I struggle with medication, I also see why I need it. But I digress.
First to tell the different kind of professionals apart.
- A psychiatrist is a person who went to medical school and has a medical degree in psychiatry. This enables him to prevent, diagnose, treat and understand mental illness by prescribing medication and course of treatment or therapy. She will also monitor how you react to medication short term and long term, so expect blood work and the like to be part of your interaction with her.
- A psychologist is someone who has an academic or doctoral degree in psychology, not a medical one. This person can is qualified to do counselling and psychotherapy, perform psychological testing, and provide treatment for mental disorders. A psychologist cannot and must not prescribe medication to you, or perform medical procedures.
- A counsellor is someone who doesn’t have a PhD but a Masters in psychology. In order to practice, a counsellor must have trained at an organisation for a few years before obtaining a license. Unlike a psychologist, a counsellor may not be authorised to diagnose an illness but is effective in treating one with the aid of therapy.
Now that that’s out of the way, how can you tell if this therapist is working for you? Most people will tell you go with your gut. But I am going to say ignore that advice. Here’s why. Consider that you are at a therapist because you are not feeling your very best. Consider that when you aren’t at your best, it is very likely that your ability to listen to your gut, to distinguish the voice of your gut is highly impaired. What you mistake for gut reaction could be fear of vulnerability or of having revealed so much to a practical stranger. Consider that when you are emotionally or mentally disturbed, your gut might not be your best friend. Therefore, don’t go with your gut right in the beginning. Because if you do, you’re bound to come up short almost always. The first time you go to a therapist and your gut is always going to tell you to run and never come back.
These are the things I have found useful in understanding whether a certain therapist is right for me.
- Be prepared for never knowing that this is the right person for you in the first session. In my exp, it takes at least 3 visits to figure out if it’s your gut feeling, or if you’re second guessing yourself, or if you are just getting comfortable.
- Do they glance at phone/clock/out the window often enough to register on you and distract you?
- Do they display any emotion or judgement at anything you’ve said so far? If yes, and it makes you uncomfortable, stop seeing them. You should be seeing someone who makes you feel like you are working together; and not someone who hands you only instructions on what to do. There will be instructions in the course of your treatment but that will be with your willingness.
- Do they talk more than you do and make you feel like you haven’t been heard? If yes, stop seeing them. Your sessions shouldn’t be a fight to be heard.
- Write down notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like about the session afterwards. When/if you switch therapists, the notes you take will show you what you need.
- If you have a diagnosis, ask clear questions about the treatment plan and what their stand on medication is. A treatment plan should include your consent and your ideas. Don’t go to someone who doesn’t include you.
- Understand what your own stand on medication is, should you need it.
In short, I suggest you give it two to four visits before you decide this is the wrong person for you. Of course, there are those who immediately know whether this person is working for them or not but in case you’re wondering how to determine whether a therapist is working, these above tips help.