“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion.” – Buddha
I know that I am not alone in the sentiment that the work I do as a psychotherapist is a calling, a deep purpose with tremendous meaning and the potential to help the world continue to spin on its axis. Like others in the profession, I know I feel there is a spiritual element in the healing journey that transcends religious affiliation, technique or training but truly is that which unites humanity in the common innate capability to heal. We, as therapists of integrity, are the “holders” of the space of healing, the witness-bearers of our clients’ stories. The people we help have invited us to journey with them for a short time as they work through trauma, loss, grief, depression. I say in all seriousness that it truly is a deep honor and privilege to bear witness and assist clients to ascend to new chapters of health and wellness.
Many of my clients have experienced relational trauma (in love, work or family). It is paramount that those recovering from abuse (and any situation, for that matter) receive a validating therapeutic environment where they can rebuild trust and establish a sense of emotional safety. Sadly, some clients come to me from prior therapy experiences with other practitioners, feeling less than supported or validated (by prior therapists). When clients experience a “safe holding environment” (Winnicott, 1953) to explore their healing process, they are able to move forward to reach therapeutic goals.
What to look for when you are seeking the assistance of a therapist:
1.Be sure you interview on the phone the therapist you are considering establishing with before you schedule your first appointment. You want to be sure the clinician has training/expertise in the areas you are seeking help with (i.e. EMDR therapy for trauma work). Where did they get their training, what books do they recommend for the particular issue you need help with, how long have they been practicing?
2. What is the therapist’s style ? I believe that when a client comes from a history of abuse (trauma/loss/etc), they require a strengths-focused, validating and client-centered approach to healing. What this means is that the therapist takes the stance of “unconditional positive regard” (Rogers, 1959) and believes in the innate healing potential of their client. The therapist holds a consistent, compassionate, ethical environment which empowers the client to draw conclusions or answers to problems and resolve that which needs freeing from the psyche.
3. What techniques does the therapist use? The clinician may be providing psycho-education and direct guidance, but it is executed in such a manner which validates the clients experience and permits the client to do the work of healing. Some clinicians theoretical orientation may be narrative (use of story), cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic, brain-wise (bringing in neuroscience), trauma-informed, etc. Ask what these styles mean and how they are utilized in therapy. If the clinician is trauma-informed, they will be engaging in the five principles of: safety, transparency and trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and mutuality, and empowerment (SAMHSA, 2019).
4. Be sure you understand the consent for treatment, which essentially describes the practice policies, costs and payment policies, length of treatment anticipated, services provided, limits of confidentiality, cancellation policy, and other legal/ethical/business components. Your therapist should go over all of this information at the very beginning of treatment and answer any of your questions without reservation.
5. What if you don’t think you are a good match? That’s ok! Just keep on moving, don’t give up, and interview other therapists for better fit before you book that first session. We, as psychotherapists, all have different styles, interventions, and personalities. I like to think most of us are at minimum, empathic and compassionate, as well as people of integrity, but I know that in any profession there are unfortunately, some outliers. Therefore, as a potential new client, it is always a good idea to ask your friends and colleagues for a good recommendation and also do some research about the therapist you’d like to see.
6. What is their reputation in the community from people you know? Word of mouth recommendation is always the best way to land safely with an excellent therapist. What is their online presence like? Do they have a website, blog, published works, podcasts/collaboration with associations and other vetted mental health providers? There will always be unsavory cybertrolls who want to defame ethical, responsible clinicians online, so be mindful of any random troll comments on blog posts or reviews. Ethical therapists do not seek out reviews. (Unfortunately, large platforms like Google and Amazon are not regulated to prevent trolls/cyber-predators from making untrue, defamatory comments).
7. If at any point you are unhappy with the services you are receiving, you need to share your concern immediately with your therapist. An ethical therapist will hear your concerns and work with you to determine if continuing to work together is indicated or if a referral to another helping professional would be a better course of action (for example, for a different type of expertise, etc). Some clients are better served with different techniques, interventions and styles of other practitioners. Honesty, trust, and safety is a mutual process in the therapeutic relationship.
Retrieved from January 10, 2019: https://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions
Retrieved from January 10, 2019: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cd4f/6ead952372d350ff792d212cb9d6de9c5f48.pdf
Retrieved from January 10, 2019: