Choosing a therapist…
If your finances are out of control, or having difficulties with expenses, income or taxes… you would hire a consultant. If you find yourself out of shape, you might also hire a trainer or consultant. Why should your mental health be any different? Think about it…isn’t your mental and emotional well being as important as your physical health or your finances?
But how do you find a good mental health consultant – a mental health professional? If you watch television or listen to the radio, you might believe that anyone could give advice and “fix” your mental health concerns. Obviously, Dr. Laura and other pop counselors make therapy look almost trite and minimize the emotional impact of life changing events. But, then how many of you know Dr. Laura doesn’t have a Ph.D. in psychology? Not in counseling either…. Dr. Laura actually isn’t a licensed psychotherapist, licensed social worker, licensed marriage therapist, or a licensed counselor… her Ph.D. is actually not even in the helping professions. Surprised? Would anyone hire a consultant who actually doesn’t have a degree or license in his or her specialization? Of course not, and that’s why it is important to gather some information and education before you seek a professional counselor.
First of all, it is important that you understand the differences between all the psychobabble of designations within the field of psychology.
• Psychiatrists are physicians (M.D) who have completed a 3-year psychiatric residency program following medical school. They are the only one who can prescribe medications for mental health concerns and generally focus on medication management and assessment.
• Psychologists generally hold a Ph.D. but there are also master’s degree (M.A) level psychologists. Generally psychologist specialize in testing, assessment, and evaluation and many times do individual, couples and family therapy.
• Clinical social workers, Professional counselors, and Marriage and Family therapists generally hold a master’s degree in their respective disciplines, but many are also Ph.D. such as myself. These clinicians generally specialize in counseling and effective treatment options and work in agencies, hospitals, or private practice.
Now, we move to the next interesting area… some people call themselves therapists, or counselors, or clinicians and they are not degreed. Generally, social workers, professional therapists and marriage and family therapists hold a minimum of a master’s degree. This minimum degree is necessary for therapist to be licensed in the State of Illinois. So be careful, make sure that your prospective therapist has an appropriate degree, and is licensed by the State of Illinois (which insures they meet state requirements regarding competence, ethical standards, continuing education, and educational requirements). But additionally, some therapists are also certified in specializations such as addictions. These specializations or certifications indicate expertise in an area of treatment, but are not regulated by the State of Illinois. Generally certified therapists gain their specialization from a group or agency which regulates to make sure they attain continuing education as well as meet ethical standards. Obviously, you want the best consultant for your own well-being… so look for a therapist who is Licensed by the State of Illinois and has certification in areas they report are specialization in their counseling practice.
Think you’ve got it figured out now…. Not quite! There are Licensed Professional Counselors and Licensed Social Workers--- but that is quite different from Licensed CLINICAL professional counselors and Licensed CLINICAL Social Workers. Actually the term “Clinical” indicates these clinicians hold a minimum of 2 years of supervised experience as well as meeting the requirements of the State of Illinois. These CLINICAL specialists are generally on managed care lists such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Caterpillar, State of Illinois, etc.
Now you are totally confused? The key concept is the importance of asking questions and getting the making sure you are working with someone who actually is trained to help with your concerns.
But what are you looking for in a therapist?
• Therapists who is trained to understand your emotional distress and the process of emotional healing
• Therapist who is nonjudgmental (neutral) and maintains confidentiality and privacy
• Therapist who is willing to provide support for self-expression and not give advice.
• Therapist who provides appropriate and ethical treatment for mental health issues.
• Therapist who assists in breaking destructive patterns, destructive thoughts and actions.
• Therapist who can maintain a sense of realistic hope and options during difficult times.
• Therapist who maintains a professional relationship and suggests referrals to other professionals or area resources when appropriate.
• Therapist who is honest, and treats each client with respect and concern.
• Therapist who is willing to assist with investigation of options in a timely manner.
But where can you find a therapist? Most people find therapists through personal referrals. Most people generally go to someone who has helped a friend, family member, acquaintance or colleague. Your family doctor, primary health care provider or clergy might be an excellence source of referral. Or many people consult the yellow pages under headings such as counselors, psychologists or Physicians-Psychiatry. But a note to the wise… the most important element of choosing a therapist is matching your needs with someone who you feel comfortable with… and who you believe has the expertise to assist in making the changes you desire.
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