Here are some tips when seeking a mental wellness professional. Below I suggest some helpful questions you may want to ask, and I summarize the main theories. Also, I provide information regarding the letters behind the name and refer you to a link that can explain the detailed differences between a counselor, psychologist and psychiatrist. The decision to dive into counseling will provide support, relief and a new perspective on life.
WHAT ARE SOME HELPFUL QUESTIONS TO ASK?
- Initial Contact: Do you provide a free meet and greet or phone consultation? (Entering counseling is an important decision and relationship. I think it’s fair for the wellness professional to offer one or the other, ideally, an in-person meeting so that you can both get a feeling if it is a good fit.)
- Cost: How much are your sessions? Do you take insurance? Do you offer a sliding scale?
- Session length: How long are your sessions? (Depending on the therapist’s preferences, sessions range from 45-60 minutes for the “hour” and some trauma treatments require 90 minutes.)
- Hours: Find out if he/she has availability during the hours you need to see her. Some mental health professionals work 9-5 and others accommodate clients who need to be seen in the evening.
- Contact: Can you text or email when you feel triggered? Can you call? Do they charge for the phone calls? (Some therapists will spend 10 minutes on the phone at no cost and prorate thereafter.)
- Homework: Do they offer supplementary exercises or workbooks or recommend resources?
Feel free to ask about their theoretical orientation, that is, what techniques they use and why they think those are effective. If you are curious what goes into the notes, ask about that. This is your time, so ask anything in order to feel comfortable moving forward.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES?
There are literally hundreds of techniques and numerous theories. It’s not important that you understand them all. The key is to trust your gut! Scientists are validating the “gut feeling” with more and more understanding about our “second brain” which is the enteric system, or gut, so if you feel rapport and you like what a counselor has to say, odds are you will be guided to heal, especially if you are ready.
Below, I offer excerpts from longer articles describing the main theories, and I include the link if you want to delve more deeply. Many, or most, psychotherapists integrate several of these theories – depending on what is showing up for a client, at what stage they are in with their healing process, and what the client’s goals are. They might refer to themselves as “integrative therapists.” That being said, some therapists align closely with only one theory, and it’s good to know that. Ask the therapist about their theoretical orientation. If what they tell you resonates, go with that. (After all So, )
- Cognitive Behavioral Theory
“Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change.” Click HERE to read more.
- Depth Theory
“This interdisciplinary approach to treatment is based on the idea that all people possess traits or elements of nature that may influence, often unconsciously, their natural processes…[and create assumptions that influence what they perceive as “reality”]. Engaging and incorporating the unconscious mind into treatment is an essential tenet of depth therapy, as uncovering the layers of the psyche is believed…to be an important component of increased emotional well-being, self-discovery, and growth.” Click HERE to read more.
- Humanistic Theory
“Humanistic psychologists believe that “…people are basically good, and have an innate need to make themselves and the world better… [They] reject a rigorous scientific approach to psychology because they see it as dehumanizing and unable to capture the richness of conscious experience. [This] approach emphasizes the personal worth of the individual, the centrality of human values, and the creative, active nature of human beings… [and it] is optimistic and focuses on noble human capacity to overcome hardship, pain and despair.” Click HERE to read more.
- Somatic Theory
“Somatic therapies facilitate resolution of trauma and PTSD responses. We can’t always think our way out of traumatic experiences.” As human beings… “we can feel trapped by our own physical and emotional states. These are the times that we feel panicky and anxious, without the ability to calm down. [Or]…we feel depressed and unmotivated and can’t seem to accomplish simple tasks. The brilliance of somatic interventions is the ability to directly intervene by developing new neural pathways and behaviors that provide alternative ways of responding to your environment without getting stuck in the habits of the past.” Click HERE to read more.
- Narrative Theory
Narrative therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counseling and community work, which centers people as the experts in their own lives. It views problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives. Click HERE to read more.
“Transpersonal psychology…studies a continuum of human experience and behavior ranging from severe dysfunction, mental and emotional illness at one end, to what is generally considered “normal,” healthy behavior at the other end and various degrees of normal and maladjustment in between – and then goes beyond it by adding a serious scholarly interest in the imminent and transcendent dimensions of human experience: exceptional human functioning, experiences, performances and achievements, true genius, the nature and meaning of deep religious and mystical experiences, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and how we might foster the fulfillment of our highest potentials as human beings. Transpersonal psychologists work across disciplines and draw on insights from not only the various areas of psychology, but also the sciences of cognition, consciousness, and the paranormal; philosophy; social and cultural theory; integral health theories and practices; poetry, literature, and the arts; and, the world’s spiritual and wisdom traditions.” Click HERE to read more.
WHAT DO ALL OF THE LETTERS AFTER THE NAME MEAN?
- Registered Psychotherapist – If not followed by NCC, LPCC, LPC or MFT this indicates that they have only taken an open book ethics board exam without a Master’s Degree or any further supervised training. This title alone will be phased out eventually, but with the appropriate accompanying letters, it indicates an individual in private practice.
- MAC Master’s Degree in Counseling. If not followed by NCC or LPCC then they are not working towards the professional license
- Ph.D. Doctor of Philosophy – the degree after a Master’s Degree – it can be obtained in a wide range of areas pertaining to psychology
- PSYD Doctor of Psychology with a clinical emphasis
- LPC Licensed Professional Counselor has completed the supervision and therapy hours. More invested in therapy with individuals although may see couples & families.
- MFT In CO: Marriage and Family Therapist is licensed and has completed the supervision and therapy hours. More invested in family therapy and systems theory but may also see individuals. (Called an “LMFT” in some other states)
- NCC Completed a MA program and Nat’l Counselor Exam. Working towards licensure. Often these indivudals have an expensive clinical or coaching background and added a Masters degree to obtain a license.
- LPCC In CO: “Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate” working towards LPC (In some states LPCC represents “Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor”)
- LCSW Licensed Clinical Social Worker has completed supervision hours
- DSW Doctor of Social Work
- CAC Certified Addiction Counselor (Does not mean they have a graduate degree)
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A PSYCHIATRIST, A PSYCHOLOGIST AND A COUNSELOR?
I am going to refer you to WebMD for a comprehensive article distinguishing the professions and clarifying their scope. The way I summarize it briefly is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medication and are more “medical model” based in their thinking – to diagnosis and treat. A psychologist draws from both medical and wellness models. A counselor can diagnosis in order to refer out, but by and large, treats from a wellness model. For more serious issues, seeing both medical model AND wellness model professionals can accelerate recovery. Finally, a “psychoanalyst” is strictly Freudian (which is a whole separate training) and a “psychotherapist” is a more generalized term referring to anyone who meets with a client regularly, rather than solely prescribing medicine. Click HERE to read detailed differences.
Jump in! Therapy is an investment and worth every penny.
I wish you all the best on the journey to find the ideal therapist for you.