Amid all the chatter on- and off-line around ‘reaching out’; acknowledging that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’; ‘ask for help’ etc. etc. finding the appropriate healing guide for you is not always an easy task.
What Do You Need?
I think the first place to start is deciding the type of professional you need: Is it a coach, a counsellor, or a therapist? I differentiate between all three this way:
A coach is not so much concerned with where you’ve been as in where you are and where you’re going. They provide tools and foster skills in you, as well providing their own perspective to help you get to where you want to be.
A counsellor will help, short-term, with a specific issue. They will bring their expertise to your experience and help you find your way out.
A therapist is with you for the long haul. They are there to help you unpick, and unpack, the myriad issues presenting in your life. They will be in a position to help you address trauma, to help you make sense of your past in order to move forward. You can expect to be with your therapist for a minimum of a year, in most cases, closer to two.
In many places (Ireland included), these are not protected titles. What that means is that anyone can decide they’re a coach/counsellor/therapist, then advertise and charge as such. All these professions, however, have accrediting and / or professional bodies. These accrediting / professional perform a few gate-keeping exercises for you: They will require that their members have a certain minimum standard of education, that they are insured, that they sign up to a particular code of ethics – and they are a place where you can make a complaint against your coach/counsellor/therapist, should you need to.
Whichever professional you decide to engage with on your healing journey, you deserve to work with someone who is qualified. Don’t be afraid to ask where your potential healing guide qualified, and what professional body they are part of. This is not private, personal, information – and anyone who is qualified is generally proud of the fact, and only too happy to provide details. It also helps to build trust, which is an essential element of the relationship you’re hoping to forge with this person.
A qualification is about more than just a spot of reading and a written exercise or two; it is about being challenged, being trained, and learning about your area, and the ethics involved in practicing within that area.
An unqualified person, therefore, is a danger to you, and themselves. I came across a ‘coach’ earlier this year who had no training, qualifications, or education beyond her secondary school exams, and an MA in Creative Writing – a degree for which no previous training or education is a prerequisite. When I asked how she thought it was legitimate to call herself a ‘coach’ she said that there had a to be a first coach in the history of coaching, and if they could call themselves a coach, so could she.
I was uneasy with this – not least because all professions have evolved and standards have been in place for decades (and, in some cases, centuries). It also told me that the vulnerable, traumatised, women to whom she sold her services were paying a woman who has no expertise, and no training around to work with traumatised people, and who had no supervisor herself. She’s a danger to the women she ‘coaches’ because of this, and a danger to herself because she has set herself up as a depository for other peoples’ traumas – and no idea of what to do with that trauma afterwards.
No matter how ‘nice’, ’empathetic’, or ‘wise’ a person may appear those traits on their own are not enough to provide the safety and support you need to heal; they need to be coupled with training, understanding, and structured knowledge.
It’s an obvious thing to say, but you really do need to be comfortable with your healing guide. The only way to find out if you’re a good fit is to interview them. Remember that you are the one with the power here – you are the potential client (customer). Recommendations – from friends, from doctors, and Google – are all common ways to start your search. Pay attention, too, to what these professionals say about themselves, their areas of expertise, interests, or experience.
I know that many have their choices restricted by their medical insurance, or geographical location. The recent emergence of a more hybrid model – both on- and off-line – of therapy makes accessing help easier for some.
Before deciding whether or not to work with someone, I recommend asking the following questions, either over the phone, or in an email:
What are your qualifications?
You want someone who is qualified to do what they say they can do.
How long have you been practicing?
You may not need someone who has decades of experience, but if you seeking marriage guidance, a 24 year-old is not going to know as much, or have the perspective of, a 54 year-old.
Do you have experience working with people whose difficulty is / stems from…
You’re looking for a resounding ‘Yes’!
What type of therapy/ies do you offer?
A therapist who is non-directive might be best. Or, you might be looking for someone who can provide help with using a specific tool (eg Mindfulness). Also, if a therapist is wedded to a particular type of therapy – eg CBT – to the exclusion of all others, that might not be helpful.
How much is your fee?
Clearly, this needs to be within your budget. Figure out how much you can afford to pay before you start looking for a therapist. Ask if they have a sliding scale.
How often do you offer sessions?
Every week? Fortnightly? Monthly? On an ad hoc basis? You want someone who will see you consistently – so that there is a routine and a rhythm to your sessions. To begin with, you may need to see a therapist weekly, before moving to fortnightly.
Do you offer support outside of sessions?
Ideally, your healing guide will model good boundaries for you, but will facilitate contact outside of sessions should a crisis arise.
How long is your waiting list?
This is a double-edged sword. Someone with a long waiting list can be a good sign; but, at the same time, if you need help now, then you can’t be expected more than a few weeks – especially if you’re in crisis.
If you start to work with someone, and find that they are not the right coach/counsellor/therapist for you, don’t be afraid to say so, and move on. No matter how much time you’ve already put into the sessions, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Be aware, though, that sometimes, we can feel like fleeing help because it’s all getting a bit too ‘real’ or ‘messy’ or ‘uncomfortable’. Ask yourself if that’s why you want to leave this particular practitioner – or if it’s a genuine misfit.
Finally, you might be wondering what I call myself. I’m not a therapist, nor am I a coach. In my capacity working with people who have histories of abuse, I prefer to use the term ‘mentor‘.