What if the “holiday blues” linger longer than the holidays? You’ve managed to stash that tangle of holiday lights, but what if you find yourself still mired in an emotional or relational tangle that no manner of holiday cheer managed to relieve?
Perhaps it’s time to enlist the aid of a good therapist. Don’t know of one?
Begin by asking trusted friends, your doctor, the kids’ school counselor or a clergyperson for referrals if you decide you need a particular kind of support beyond what they can offer. If soliciting referrals isn’t comfortable or fruitful, as a last resort you might let your fingers do the walking through the yellow pages, but “buyer beware.” Though you may feel vulnerable, panicky or even impatient right now, you still need to be a discerning and prudent consumer.
The options can be overwhelming. You’ll find a veritable alphabet soup of confusing credentials trailing after many therapists’ names, but mere credentials are not enough. A therapist should be compassionate and open-minded, but his or her greatest tool is an ability to co-construct and maintain a therapeutic relationship with you, within which you can safely explore your concerns.
Plan to speak over the phone with at least three prospects and be prepared to ask several questions. Inquire about their education, training and clinical experience and ask about their fee policies. Will you be paying out-of-pocket or using health insurance? Explore these possibilities.
Also, ask prospective therapists to describe how they practice. Does what you’re hearing resonate with you in any meaningful way or raise any red flags? Don’t ignore the flags. Listen to your gut and compare your experiences of each of these encounters before making your first appointment. You’ll be the best judge as to whether someone is a good match for you and your family, and you may get a better read after a session or two.
You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive and the same can be said about your therapist. He or she may be friendly but shouldn’t become your “friend.” That said, if after a couple of sessions you’re just not feeling you’ve made a connection with this person, ask yourself why and consider discussing these concerns during your next session. Also, remember that therapy is not advice giving. Receiving feedback is important, but if your therapist does more talking than listening, move on.
For some people, one of the most difficult aspects of the therapy process is making the decision to go in the first place. They worry they’ll be told that they’re to blame or are “defective” in some way-and usually have a hunch that some discomfort and work may be in store. But a good therapist should “feel” like an unbiased collaborator who helps you discern what your goals are for your life and your family and supports you in your efforts to reach them.
Points to consider:
- Are you having thoughts of harming yourself or others or facing an abusive situation? Call 911 or, if you are confident you can get there safely, go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Your therapist should have a minimum of a master’s degree in a counseling profession, have completed a supervised clinical internship or residency and hold a current certification or license to practice as a mental health professional.
- If they’ll be participating in the therapy, be sure to include other adults and older children in the process of selecting a therapist so that everyone is on board with the decision.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com.