Recently, I got a call from a woman who was very unhappy with the therapist she was “assigned” (her emphasis) at a community clinic. She felt she was getting sub-par therapy. I also got an email from someone else about this subject, in the same week!
Anyway, I asked the caller some questions to ascertain what her objection to the clinic’s therapist was, and came to the conclusion (admittedly based on only a brief conversation), that she felt therapists who work in clinics were less talented, experienced, and qualified than therapists in private practice. She felt that they work in clinics because they aren’t “good enough” to have private practices. There are also other myths associated with mental health clinics that can easily be cleared up.
These myths are pervasive and unfortunate. Sure, there are drawbacks to seeing therapists in a clinic setting but there are also benefits. There are also drawbacks to seeing therapists in private practice (and of course, benefits). Here are 3 myths that need to be dispelled.
Myth One: The therapy in clinics is subpar. Therapists who “can’t make it” in their private practice work in clinics. Therapists who work in clinics are therefore less qualified than therapists who have private practices-you get what you pay for.
This issue can be cleared up right away-there are many reasons competent, even excellent therapists choose to work in clinics. Very often therapists who work in clinics also have their own private practices-in fact, this is commonplace-but work in the clinic as their day job! Hey, clinics offer paid vacations, sick days, medical benefits; private practice only therapists have to pay their own way for everything. Maintaining a private practice is expensive and requires business savvy-in most cases therapists in private practices have to put an awful lot of resources into attracting clients.
Also, therapists in some clinics are required to have professional qualifications that may not be required for someone in private practice-the standards may actually be far higher in clinics in many cases. To be fair, many beginning therapists get their training in clinics (depending on the type of therapist, they may be required to work under supervision to get a license to practice), so you may end up working with someone without a lot of experience. However, they are supervised and in some cases, a therapist-in-training can be the right choice.
As for the fee, non-profit clinics are usually government or community or charity subsidized, so someone else is actually paying the therapist’s salary, not you. For-profit clinics generally accept insurance, something that many therapists in private practice don’t, so you pay only a co-pay. Also, therapists in private practice have many operating costs that those who work in clinics don’t have (like office rent, advertising fees, etc.) and this raises the price of service.
Myth Two: If you go to a clinic your records are no longer confidential-you will forever be marked as a therapy patient.
If you pay for any health service with government or private insurance, there will automatically be a variety of personnel that will have access to some of your information. There are limits in place as to who actually has this access and what access they can have.
Also, in many clinics therapists are supervised and have case conferences with their supervisor, who generally does see your charts. This oversight is to ensure that your therapist is doing a good job and moving you towards improvement. Still, there are laws in place that protect your information.
Therapists in private practice generally don’t have any specific oversight. They keep patient records and usually only share information if they accept insurance. In that case they may need to show their evaluation results and treatment plans to the insurance company.
(It is important to know that legally and ethically patients are entitled to see their entire clinical record.)
Myth Three: Only people with serious problems go to clinics-you have to be mentally ill to go to a clinic.
This is simply not true. People go to clinics for all kinds of reasons. Depending on the type of clinic, you can be treated for phobias, improve your communications and relationships skills, and even work on your insomnia. You can also be treated for depression, bi-polar disorder, and other mental illnesses.
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Last reviewed: 1 Mar 2011