Ever walk out of a psychotherapy session feeling as though you achieved very little, or worse, nothing? That you just sat there and rehashed all the crap, all the pain, all the past experiences that have plagued your very existence for as long as you can remember and then once your allocated minutes had ended, you walk out feeling, well, fragile and exposed?
After asking this same question to a number of people over the years, it still shocks me to hear how common this occurrence and how disheartened people become when having experienced such an event, even just once. Some so disheartened that they have never revisited the option of seeing a psychologist out of either fear that they will again experience the same careless exposure, or out of complete lack of faith that there is anything beneficial about the process after such a tarnished experience.
The truth is, finding a good psychologist is like finding a good personal trainer, meaning, they can be few and far between. After being in the fitness industry for over ten years, I have known countless personal trainers that have stellar ‘book smarts’, but absolutely no idea how to support and guide their clients with a ‘person-centred’, ‘individually tailored’ approach that produces lasting results. You see it’s the same with psychological training, you don’t just want someone who has read all the books, attended all the lectures and fallen into the industry with little ‘self-work’ or ‘down and dirty’ exploration. It’s one thing to academically and intellectually know the information – it’s a whole other ball game to have practiced and lived through the work that is needed to fully understand the journey.
Ya feel me?
As it is still true for many native tribes around the world, wisdom about life and how to be human used to be passed down from the tribe’s ‘elders’. Men and women that had reached an age where ‘lived experience’ gave them the credentials to advise the younger members of their community. In today’s world, however, if you are clever and dedicated enough academically, you can graduate with the credentials to become a psychologist – or anything else for that matter – but does having ‘book smarts’ and a piece of paper really equipped you with the wisdom to help fellow humans navigate the darkest and most painful parts of themselves?
Before you answer that, please hear me out.
I am not suggesting that to be a great psychologist you have to first have lived and worked through your own horrific trauma. I am sure there are many professionals out there that have assisted many and achieved some incredible results without having experienced the same type of life or event as the clients sitting in front of them. After all, no two people are the same and no two people experience an event in the exact same way, so it would be amiss to assume that the best psychologist to assist a client with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is one that has, in fact, suffered and worked through their own PTSD.
Would it be fair to say, though, that to be a great psychologist/ psychotherapist there are a few things that are necessary, yet they aren’t able to be learned from a book?
Professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. writes a insightful article for Psychology Today addressing this particular topic and gives us 13 Qualities to look for in an effective Psychotherapist.
As the Professor mentions, your prospective therapist may not have all thirteen qualities, however, it is beneficial to get familiar with what you are looking for and ideally, what qualities are important to you. Let’s face it, even though skeptics of psychotherapy ignorantly (IMO) call the practice “rent-a-friend”, there may a hint of validity in that statement. If you don’t feel comfortable, or don’t feel like you are connecting with your therapist after a good few sessions in a way that allows you to work as a therapeutic team, then how do you expect to make any progress? The pure fact is, regardless of their qualifications or how ‘good’ they are at meeting the thirteen qualities above, it’s common knowledge that some people just don’t ‘click’ and instead of looking at this as a failed attempt at seeking help, we really need to be seeing it for what it is – a personality difference (or what I like to call a, “not my tribe” moment).
I have been to about six different therapists over the years, not all of them bad but some frighteningly so and it wasn’t until I met my current therapist and almost immediately started doing some great work that it became abundantly clear, I previously hadn’t shopped around enough. The reason I didn’t feel like I’d achieved much after seeing someone previously wasn’t necessarily because the therapist was ‘bad’ at their job (accept for two), but instead because I didn’t feel a connection and therefore didn’t allow myself to open up and really commit to the therapeutic process. At the end of the day, the therapist is there to do their job but how can we expect them to do that with only half the story, or through the hundred storey high brick walls we have build around ourselves?
Your mental health is THE most important area of your life because without it, everything else is just that much harder. Seeking help can be daunting and sadly a bad experience can sometimes throw you off the therapy path, but it’s important to remember that not all therapists are created equal and your beautifully unique energy isn’t going to form a cosmic alliance with every person you meet. Just like anything else, you need to shop around to find what feels good for you – just like a pair of expensive, designer shoes, your therapist may have all the accolades known to western society BUT it doesn’t mean they are going to be comfortable to work with.