I will begin by saying that none of my clients have found me through advertising. I know this because I have never advertised my services. I did, however, create a website (www.oconnellkate.com) as a platform for describing to prospective clients who I was and what demographics and issues I work with. If you go there you will see that my home page includes an essay I wrote which touches in on my concerns about our society’s increased tolerance and advocacy for ‘chemically restraining’ our youth. I mention my training in, as well as the efficacy of, Energy Medicine as a means of healing the mind/body/spirit. There’s a page devoted to Linus, my 16 month-old, 85lb white Labrador Retriever who is in training to become a certified therapy dog and who joins me in sessions as my co-therapist. You can also find a list of workshops that I offer as well as a brief bio that describes my education, training, and the fact that I’m originally from Canada. A list of my other websites will tell you that when I’m not in session with clients, I am usually working on a number of graphic/photographic projects or writing a clinical book of the same name as a companion piece to this blog. And last but not least, there is a picture of my smiling face so you can better assess whether or not sitting across from me week in and week out might be a pleasant enough experience. Other than that, you don’t have anything else to go by that would identify that working with me might actually prove helpful in achieving greater equilibrium in your life.
So then, what would be the best way to find a therapist who would be a good fit for you?
Based on my own experiences as both a therapist and a client, I can easily conclude that the best way to find a therapist, who would be more helpful than harmful, is to find one through someone you know and trust. All of my clients, each and every one, without exception, were referred to me by another client or by a social worker who picked me specifically for a case because they believed it would be a good fit for the client.
So once you’ve been given the name of a reputable therapist by someone you trust, the next step is to make an initial appointment. I recommend that this appointment be largely driven by the client through a process of interviewing the prospective therapist. And here’s essentially what you want to know before moving forward with the relationship:
What is their level of education in the field of mental health counseling and where did they receive it from?
Because you want to know that they have a broad knowledge base which should include sound academic research from which they are able to draw information that is relevant to, and helpful in, understanding your situation.
How long has he/she been practicing in the field of mental health counseling?
Because you want to know that they have had a fair bit of training and experience in the field or as I like to call it, 'the trenches', and that they are not experimenting on you.
How many clients do they currently have and how many hours do they work every week?
Because you want to make sure that they are not over-extended and exhausted, but rather, well-balanced and healthy in so far as they do not ask more of themselves than what is reasonable. Good therapists should be modelling healthy behaviors rather than practicing within a “do as I say, not as I do” framework.
What theoretical framework do they practice from?
Because it's important that they have an understanding of what it is they do and how they do it as an indication that they may have achieved some mastery in what it is they do. As a client, I would be concerned if my therapist didn't know whether or not they were a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist or a Family Systems Therapist. Knowing what framework you work from indicates that you are working with a level awareness and focused intention that suggests that how you navigate a session is done quite purposefully in response to what material the client brings into the session.
If they have one, what is their area of specialization?
Because it may not prove helpful to go to a therapist who specializes in substance abuse issues if that is not your issue.
Have they ever been married or in a long-term relationship, and do they have children?
Personally, I would be remiss in seeking advice and wise counsel from someone who has never had any personal experience with what it is they are providing advice on. To do so, would limit your therapeutic experience to an academic and theoretical framework full of speculation. I also believe it is important to consider the age of the therapist. A twenty-three year old therapist will always have a limited capacity in working with older clients with a lot more life experience because their schemas will not have been developed beyond twenty-three years of life experience.
What do they like the most about their job?
Because you can tell a lot about a person by what they like most about their job.
What do they like least about their job?
Because you can tell a lot about a person by what they like least about their job. Also, keep in mind that their job involves working with you. So what they like least about it is going to affect you.
What do they do to renew their energy levels at the end of each day/week?
Because it’s important to work with someone who is not exhausted or depleted. Being an effective therapist requires a tremendous capacity to be ‘present’ and to ‘hold space’ for the client no matter how traumatic the material is that is being excavated, processed, and released.
And last but not least and without doubt the most important question you could ever ask a prospective therapist:
Is he/she working on themselves? And if so, in what way?
So what exactly do I mean by that?
This is not a small subject and in some respects we’re going to jump ahead a little bit in order to acknowledge what it is exactly that draws an individual to practice their life’s work in the field of mental health counseling.
In future articles we will be exploring how an individual is ‘imprinted’ on a cellular level through their DNA lineages, their own personal experiences beginning at conception, as well as what was modeled for them and projected onto them by the people in their environments while growing up. All of this cellular ‘imprinting’ is essentially what is unconsciously informing perceptions, belief systems, defense mechanisms, behaviors, and relationship patterns.
So, in short, when someone decides to make it their life’s work to help others it will always be an expression of how they were imprinted throughout childhood. In all likelihood they would have had some early training in becoming the emotional flotation device for a primary caregiver. In all likelihood they would have had some version of having the ‘proverbial shit’ knocked out of them that left a lasting impression in the very cells of their body. This mixed with the unconscious drive to provide for others what was not provided for them, creates a relationship dynamic between the therapist and the client in which the person they are really attempting to help or ‘rescue’ is themselves. And unless they are working very consciously and very diligently at combing through and excavating all of their own personal shtuff then they will have no awareness of this and as a result, their shtuff will always be in the room and not so carefully tucked away. What’s important to understand is that the issue is not with the fact the therapist’s shtuff is in the room because this is always going to be true. It’s that the therapist is not aware that this is the case and will, without realizing it, always be defending that this is true; in their posturing, in the power dynamic that is inherent between themselves and the client when this is the case, and in the style that they choose to work. And this dynamic will, without exception, always limit their capacity to be fully present and facilitate an effective and lasting change in the client’s experience. Future articles,entitled “When Therapy isn’t Helpful” and "Compassion Fatigue" will explore this issue further.
So how do you, the client, assess whether or not this is true? Try introducing this subject to your prospective therapist and watch their reaction. If they strongly disagree and become extremely defensive, not only do you have confirmation that it is true but also that they haven’t even begun to consider that it’s even necessary and appropriate to be working on themselves. And the only question you need to be asking yourself at this point is: “How on earth can someone take me to the places that I’ve resisted going to on my own if they aren’t able or willing to go there themselves?"
While growing up, often and usually in reference to me, my father would use the expression, “There goes the blind leading the blind”. This would be an appropriate description for working with a therapist who is not working on themselves. So if you want an experience in which you come in every week and tell your story over and over again as a means to vent, get things off your chest, and ‘be heard’; then whether or not your therapist is working on themselves would not be an issue for you. However, if you really want to have a 'corrective emotional experience' as it relates to being in relationship with self and others; which, in turn, will influence the experiences you have; then you should be working with someone who is engaged in an exhaustive and ongoing inventory of themselves. Only then, can you truly be taken to the places that will result in you having a very different quality of life.