Heaney: Considering talking to a therapist? Here’s what you should ask them (column)
May 30, 2018
Seeking out counseling is usually nerve-racking, vulnerable and likely scary for most. That initial phone call to a therapist is usually one the hardest first steps — at least that's what I hear from my clients.
And research tells me folks consider counseling at least eight times before ever reaching out. All the while, they remain stuck, stagnant and hurt.
It all makes sense to me. Here you are, in a painful, uncertain moment in your life. Part of you is begging for guidance and help. Another part of you doesn't want anyone to know how deeply you're struggling. We all tend to hide these more vulnerable parts away, to try to keep them protected and out of sight. I get it and have been there myself — not knowing which therapist to call or how to even decide who is the best person to help.
Then there's the valid thought of, "Why would I go to a stranger and open up? Shouldn't I be able to reach out to my partner, my best friend or my mom?" Absolutely. And you definitely need these important people in your corner to give love and support. But what I often tell those who reach out to me is if you could have resolved this issue or struggle, then you likely would have.
Often clients have exhausted options and run into dead ends in finding relief. Also, when struggling in life or in relationships, you need an unbiased guide who knows which path to take — a guide who has specialized training, skills and knowledge. That's where someone like me, a therapist, comes in. While mom or your best friend are well intentioned, they too are impacted when they see you struggling and what you need from them is different from what a therapist can give.
The other piece clients tell me is that, "I don't know what to ask. This is so new and different, I'm a bit lost in what I should do." Let me step in and help. If you've been thinking about counseling to help you, your relationship or your family, then here's a quick go-to guide on what to ask a therapist — because this is your life and your heart. You need to have confidence that this person can give you the help you're needing.
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1. What do you specialize in?
We can't do it all. And more importantly, we need to know what we are great at. While most therapists are capable of seeing a wide array of clients, high-performing and high-quality therapists know what they specialize in. From populations to issues, a great therapist will clearly tell you what their areas of focus are while also explaining what their limitation are.
Whether you are facing challenges in your relationship or marriage or facing aspects of trauma and addiction, these are critical areas to ensure a therapist has specific training, certification and support in. If they can't articulate how they are specialized, then it might be best to keep exploring a better fit.
2. What model do you use and why? What is your overall approach to therapy?
Along with clarifying specializations, therapists need to be able to articulate their approach to counseling and be able to explain it in terms that you can understand. Academic, psychological, mumbo-jumbo that glides right over your head is not what you need. You deserve to understand why they do what they do.
3. Tell me about your experience and how long have you been practicing?
These are simple important facts to know and understand. Even if the therapist is new, they can have a wealth of experience that supports their work. Be open to learning about their experiences beyond the walls of private practice. And pay attention to whether they continually invest in keeping their skills sharp with trainings and certifications.
4. Do you receive supervision? Do you regularly consult with other therapists?
This is critical. It's common for therapists to report feelings of isolation in their practice. Once they've graduated, become licensed and are experienced, many therapists stop growing. No matter how long someone has been practicing or how experienced they might be, collaborating with others is essential to providing high-quality care.
5. Do you value relationships, emotional bonds, or would you say you are neutral or believe in individualistic modalities?
This is a suggested question from my own supervisor and mentor, Jim Thomas. Thomas is a renowned therapist and international trainer. As emotionally focused therapists, we prioritize relationships and the bonds that connect us because it is only through secure relationships that we experience our deepest healing. So, Thomas and I suggest you take into serious account how a therapist views connection to others in their approaches to counseling.
At the Vail Relationship Institute (www.vailrelationshipinstitute.com), we'd love to answer your questions. We have therapists specializing in couples, adolescents, families, substance use, PTSD, eating disorders and more.
Jessica Heaney is a certified emotionally focused therapist in Vail. She specializes in relationship dynamics, helping individuals and couples strengthen and repair their relationships. For more information, visit http://www.jessicaheaney.com.