A woman called me saying her love relationship was struggling. She wanted to find a therapist who would work with both her and her boyfriend. But after she suggested to her boyfriend that they come to see me, she sent me this message, “I do not know what to do anymore. I asked Harry to join me. He said this kind of stuff does not work.”
Here is my response:
“I agree with Harry, ‘This kind of stuff does not work.’ The question is, ‘Are you and Harry both willing to do The Work to make the relationship mutually rewarding?’ Counselling does not do the work. The counselor or therapist provides information of what appears to be not working and offers alternatives. Improvements happen when the client trusts the good will of their partner and themselves, plus commits to do The Work of improved problem solving, providing mutual-support, and better communicating.
She came on her own. Good on her!
Counselling Doesn’t Work
I smile when people spend one hour in counselling, where they are given insightful observations, suggested healthy alternatives to practice, and then walk out the door saying, “That didn’t work.” It is like going to a lecture on losing weight or reading about poor eating and exercise habits, but concluding, ‘That stuff doesn’t work. I haven’t lost any weight and I’m no healthier!”
As in dieting and exercise, where there is a will, there is a way. The bigger challenge in relationships is that, it takes two wills to make the way.
Fortunately therapy is available to only couples, but families, and individuals. It works for those who, what? Yes, do The Work! Doing the work includes finding a good-fit therapist.
What is Therapy?
The word, therapy, is used in reference to helping correct a range of physical, mental and emotional challenges. Therapies include chemotherapy (dealing with cancer), medical therapy (dealing with physical illness), occupational therapy (dealing with physical limitations), and psychotherapy (dealing with mental and/or emotional states).
When the question surfaces, “How do you find a therapist?” it usually refers to someone struggling with daily living in which psychotherapy is often a good fit. You can choose from a range of supports, usually starting with a conversation with your family doctor. From there the choices are many.
In 1984, after years of my own therapy and study, I graduated with a Masters Degree in Clinical and Humanistic Psychology. I was trained to be a psychotherapist. Therapeutic counselors, Psychologists, and many Social Workers help people who struggle with their emotional, mental, and relationship challenges. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who typically specialize in prescribing medications that help with psychiatric and mental health disorders.
How to Choose a Therapist
How do you choose a therapist who you will hopefully trust? You want someone who can help you precisely identify your problem, sort out your past and present, and help guide you to a more fulfilling future. Here are some thoughts:
A client once told me that she experienced herself as doing the work of becoming aware of her feelings. She described moving through painful feelings while exploring her past. She had consciously made better choices and experimented with new and healthier behaviors. At the same time, she described me as serving as a mirror for reflection and a light showing her hope and options for a better future. Because therapy has parallels to teamwork you want to choose thoughtfully.
The client, couple or family are in charge of their lives while the therapist provides support, empathy, and tools to facilitate self-awareness and healing. A therapist’s job includes remaining in an adult state (not becoming triggered into a highly charged emotional state), sharing his or her observations and insights, and facilitating healing.
Be willing to do a search for your best-fit therapist. If you seek marriage or family counseling usually one family member is the driving force to get help. If you are the driving force consider looking for a therapist of the same sex as your reluctant partner. It may allow your partner to feel safer. This suggestion is tentative because different people have had different experiences of safety with men and women.
If you seek individual therapy it is important for you to choose–not your mother, spouse, co-worker or friend. But do ask for recommendations from those same people and your family doctor. For women, often rape crisis centers and women’s shelters have referral lists. If you seek couple therapy ask if the therapist integrates the ground breaking and well-researched concepts of John Gottman. Even better is a therapist who has taken training through the Gottman Institute.
Indicators of a Healthy Therapist
In the first session or two, notice if the therapist:
- appears to be emotionally healthy him or herself. Yes, some have unresolved issues!
- focuses primarily on helping you discover what is troubling you.
- does not recoil or negatively react to the expression of strong emotions.
- is empathetic and seeks to understand what is going on for you.
- is emotionally self-aware and appropriately contains his or her feelings.
- is authentic, non-judgmental, thoughtful, and emotionally safe.
- picks up on your verbal and nonverbal communication.
- is creative and responsive in using therapeutic tools and processes.
- is flexible with the therapeutic process, depending on the content and emotions you share.
- sets clear boundaries in regard to his or her time and payment. He or she is the leader of the session. You are the leader of your life.
- offers you acceptance, acknowledgement for progress, and hope for your future.
Questions to Ask Your Potential Therapist
- How long have you been providing therapy?
- Have you been a therapy client yourself?
- What kind of training do you have?
- How do you describe your perspective on healing and therapy?
- Do you believe in the value of exploring clients’ families of origins; that is helping them discover what happened in childhood so they can understand who they are now and why they react the way they do?
- May I call you at home if I am in crisis? If not, what will be the alternative?
- How much do you charge?
Note: if you suspect trauma (childhood neglect or abuse or an unresolved and disruptive event) is involved ask, “Are you qualified to use EMDR?” and/or “Do you have experience and skills in resolving trauma?” Then ask if you if their training in trauma healing involves the nervous system or body focused (somatic) work.
Therapy at Its Best
When you first see a therapist, notice if you feel understood and supported to make the best decisions for YOU, and depending on your circumstances, for your marriage and family. Notice if you are treated as a unique human being. Do you feel connected and safe? If yes, this is called the client-therapeutic alliance, which is important for you to effectively deal with any past trauma and pain.
Therapy can feel uncomfortable. Don’t judge your progress by the pain that comes up. It is better to have pain surface than fester inside.
The therapeutic process works if you begin to take better care of yourself, begin to recognize your problematic patterns, become more accepting of your feelings and begin to make better life choices. The couple counselling process works if you and your partner start to understand one another at a deeper level and remember why you first fell in love.
At some point you will feel independent and strong enough to end the therapeutic relationship. A hug goodbye is often in order.
Warning: If a therapist wants to have a sexual relationship with you, RUN!