Escape from the Woo ZooMental Health

Braaaains! Being a Skeptical Mental Health Services Consumer

In 2008, 13.4 percent of adults in the United States recieved treatment for a mental health problem.Sure, it's only one country (and one I'm partial to), but it illustrates the point well. A whole lot of us, abroad or not, will seek treatment for mental illness sometime throughout our lives.

That point, when you're at your most vulnerable, when it feels like your own brain just can't leave well enough alone, is hard enough. Arriving on the doorstep of a therapist who isn't commited to treating you in the best, most helpful way possible, can make it worse. When you're a client, or on your way to being a client, how do you pick the person who will put the pieces back together?

I am not a therapist. Thusly, let us insert an important disclaimer here.
DISCLAIMER: This is not professional advice. These are suggestions based on my studies and discussions with therapists. Please consult someone with more letters after their name when making treatment decisions.

The first thing to remember is that you're hiring them. Just as you'd fire a hair stylist who gave you a buzz cut when you asked for a trim, you have the ability to fire a therapist recommending homeopathy or 'The Secret'. Sure, you're coming to them for help, and to some extent, their job is to tell you what to do or think about–but you, my friend, are not obligated to stick with or pay large sums of money to someone recommending woo. Ever. You are in control, and you deserve treatment that works. Full stop.

But Kate, I don't even have a therapist/psychologist/counselor I can fire! 

Okay then, let's find one! You can do this a number of ways. A medical doctor can suggest a few. Your insurance may give a list of ones they will cover. Googling works too, but may give less information. Caveat here: just because one person helped someone else's suffering, does not mean they're going to click with you. You could need more structure, or less, someone who takes furious notes while you talk, or someone who just lets conversation flow. It's about you. Even if they're nice, it's okay to decide you need to see someone else who won't drive you bonkers by running late every single session

So you found someone you think could help you? Congratulations! Now there's housekeeping to be done. These are pretty standard questions worth asking. Your potential therapist/counselor/psychologist should be comfortable answering them. (adapted from the American Psychological Association's list)

  • What kind of therapist are you? What are your credentials?
  • What experience do you have with [describe your situation]? For example, what experience do you have with depression after death of a family member?
  • What kinds of treatments do you use, and have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue?
  • What experience do you have working with [any part of your identity you feel may come up]? For instance, what experience do you have dealing with trans* patients, or single mothers, or people with disabilities?

​Your therapist should be able to answer these questions with minimal-to-no discomfort. This is basic stuff. If they aren't able to tell you about their credentials or experience, that's not a good thing.

The third question is especially important. Your therapist should be able to tell you, if and when you ask, about the type of therapy they use–and the evidence proving that it works. When a system of treatment is developed, it gets tested. Research is used to compare it to previous therapies and, often, to medications. From Patty Guzikowski, a quick list of  some evidence based therapies: cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), short-term solution-focused therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT). 

So now you've done it. You found someone who fits all your criteria. They want to help you. You have an appointment. This is great! See if you're comfortable, if they're engaged and want to work with you. Does something seem off? Is there a magic oil or a single book or some way to purify toxins that's going to fix everything? I don't have to tell you, these are bad, bad, signs. It's never going to be a boquet of roses to start the hunt for a therapist over again. But you, dear skeptic, are worth it.

Featured image via UNLV Dept. of Psychology

1 National Institute of Mental Health

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Kate Donovan

Kate Donovan

Kate is an outspoken atheist, feminist, demisexual, stigma-busting student in Chicago studying psychology and human development. She juggles occasionally, would knit you something warm if she knew you, and reads anything she can get her hands on. She was raised believing alternative medicine worked, and now spends her time making skeptical faces at it. You can find her on Twitter at @donovanable

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