Therapy is essentially a healthy relationship.
Emotions are expressed.
Ideas are exchanged and examined.
But none of these is primary.
What is primary is
between the client and the therapist.
The healthier this relationship can be,
the better the outcome.
And the therapist is half of this important relationship
What can you know about your therapist?
How much does it matter?
THE THERAPIST’S HUMANITY
Robots haven’t replaced therapists yet,
so we know the therapist is going to be a human being.
This tells you a lot.
It tells you that the therapist
has experienced the same feelings you have.
He or she might have felt more or less
anger, fear, sadness, excitement and joy in their life than you have,
but they have definitely felt them all.
They have also experienced success and failure.
And they know what it’s like to be confident and to have self-doubt.
Therapists in the United States are trained either as
psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health.
Psychologists have a Masters or Ph.D. in psychology.
Social Workers have a Masters or Ph.D. in social work.
If you wonder about the formal training of any therapist, ask them.
If you feel a need to verify what they tell you,
check with your state’s licensing authority.
Sometimes the formal training the therapist received
is not particularly related
to sitting in a little room
helping people solve their problems through conversation.
Some psychiatrists attend schools
that emphasize medication and don’t believe in therapy.
Some psychologists attend schools
that emphasize entirely different branches of psychology.
Some social workers attend schools that examine social problems
and barely mention personal and relationship problems.
Many of us learn more after getting our degrees
than we did while attaining them.
And most states require this additional education.
You might find it interesting to learn about
your therapist’s advanced education.
Most of us don’t start by offering fee-for-service psychotherapy.
We spend years in areas such as
public health, correctional services, university guidance departments, etc.
You can find out where your therapist gathered their experience.
You can even ask whether they think it influences their work with you in any way.
(Guess you could just ask for a copy of their resume.)
Therapists are trained to avoid talking about their personal life
for many good reasons including:
We are paid to concentrate on you.
We must work well with a wide variety of people,
regardless of our own background.
We don’t want to confuse things
by adding personal prejudices and interests to the mix.
But if questions about your therapist’s hobbies and interests,
their current living situation,
whether they have children,
their childhood standard of living,
or whether they’ve had any therapy of their own
ever do matter to you,
you can certainly ask.
(If your therapist responds by asking
“Why do you want to know?”
you can be pretty sure that
answering such questions isn’t their style.)
Personally, I don’t mind answering these questions honestly if very briefly.
Although it is a therapist’s responsibility
to keep our personal issues out of our work,
we can never be entirely sure
that the answers to such questions are irrelevant.
[… FYI: Photography, travel, and the Internet; married; two sons; poor; and yes…]
ONCE YOU KNOW, SO WHAT?
If you have major medical concerns, you should see a psychiatrist.
Otherwise, all of the factors we’ve discussed here might not even matter.
Even if you learn all these things about your therapist
you will probably find that
what really matters is how you feel about them when you are with them,
and how attentive, helpful, and able to communicate they are.
That’s how it usually works.
Your therapist is a human being who is trained to show you
how to make the changes you want to make.
If you like them and they like and respect you,
you are in the right place.
You will do well together.