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There are lots of people who don't know what I do. It's pretty common with the clients I see, so I'm going to give you some quick tips on what therapy is and what it isn't.
What is therapy and who gives it?
- Therapy can look very different from person to person, but in general it is a process where Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHPs) help you think, feel, and behave differently.
- QMHPs consist of Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Licensed Proffessional Councelors (LPC), Psychologists (PhD or Psy.D.) along with others. Titles may change by state. Life and health coaches are not considered therapists.
- All QMHPs have at least a masters degree in some kind of counseling, and others have PhDs. The training they receive varies (for example, an LMFT will receive special training in helping families and couples in distress and will be taught theories that view challenges as parts of systems rather than just individuals), but all licensed professionals can see individuals, couples, and families.
- Therapists are really just there to help you figure out your solution to the problems you are having. They can help talk you through big decisions, help you grieve a loss, and can help you develop into your best self. Some therapists work with special populations such as those working with substance abuse, others may work more with couples and infidelity or communication problems. Most see depression and anxiety in some form (Heafner, Silva, Tambling, & Anderson, 2016).
- Therapy is protected by the HIPAA act, meaning that all of your information is kept totally confidential. The point is your privacy is completely respected. The only exceptions to your confidentiality comes because therapists are mandated reporters, meaning that they have to make a report if there is a threat to harm others or yourself. Child abuse and elder abuse also has to be reported (HHS, 2017).
- Some therapists are direct and challenging, others may be more indirect. You should make sure that you feel like you have a connection with your therapist. Research shows that the "therapeutic alliance" is the best predictor of whether therapy is successful (Sprenkle, Davis, & Lebow, 2009). So if you don't feel a solid connection with your therapist by the 2nd-3rd session, it's probably better to find a new therapist that you jive with.
People have some pretty weird ideas about what therapy is. Here is a list of what therapy is NOT:
- Therapy is not giving advice. We aren't sages with magical wisdom, we just use psychological and therapeutic principles to help you figure out the best way for you. We might suggest things for you, but we don't "tell you what to do".
- Therapists try to be aware of their values in session. So your therapist should not be giving your religious advice or answers to your problems. If they are, get a new therapist!
- Therapy is not a magic wand. Therapy is a lot of work where you are learning to heal and become different. Change is hard for all of us, and therapists know that. Therapy probably won't solve ALL of your problems, but it can help them be more manageable.
- Therapists don't all have it together either. Some therapists see their own therapists for help in their own life. (Geller, Norcross, and Orlinsky, 2005). We aren't perfect and are growing right along side you in the room (but you are the one paying for therapy so make sure you are the focus of the session!).
Therapy is a great way to get help with deeply personal challenges. Therapists get training in lots of different ways to help reach your goals. It might be scary to see a therapist, but it can be one of the best things you ever do!
Geller, Norcross, and Orlinsky (2005) The Psychotherapist's Own Psychotherapy: Patient and Clinician Perspectives, Oxford University Press.
Heafner, J., Silva, K., Tambling, R., & Anderson, S. (2016). Client-Reported-Presenting Problems at an MFT Clinic. The Family Journal, 24(2), 140-146.
HHS Office of the Secretary,Office for Civil Rights, & Ocr. (2017, December 19). Information Related to Mental and Behavioral Health. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/mental-health/index.html
Sprenkle, D. H., Davis, S. D., & Lebow, J. L. (2009). Common factors in couple and family therapy: The overlooked foundation for effective practice. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.