How do you tell the difference between good therapy and not-so-good therapy?
This article tells you what to look for and may give you some ideas on how to make therapy work for you.
The ingredients that work:
1. A therapist who has wide experience of life and a lot of common-sense. With some exceptions experienced therapists tend to be better than newly qualified ones. I have been in this business for 22 years now and I estimate that I wasn’t that good until I had been practicing for about 5 years. It also helps if the therapist has gone through the mill of building relationships, developing a business or a career, raising children, etc before she became a practitioner. It’s even better if the she has herself overcome some of the problems she is helping with. But watch out for long-established therapists – particularly if they only ever learned one approach – who have become set in their ways.
2. A therapist with a gift for clear, direct, empathetic communication. It also helps if he has a well-developed sense of humour. Therapists who are very solemn, or distant, or overly-theoretical are either ‘hiding’ from you behind their training or else they lack confidence in their own powers. Confident therapists foster confident clients.
3. You are provided with a clear explanation for your symptoms. This is essential because many clients are scared, and confused, about why things are happening to them. If you have never been depressed before it can seem overwhelming. Simple explanations put people back in control again. Complicated theories, on the other hand, may have the opposite effect.
4. An understanding for how recent life events have triggered (or re-triggered) the problem. There is a minority of clients who have had problems dating back to very early life but they are best suited to specialists. For the majority their distress is linked to job problems, relationship breakdown, financial worries, family issues, bereavements, abuse, discrimination and other life problems. Or else they are related to social isolation, inexperience and poor self-esteem. At some point during therapy the client will need to acquire some new skills for overcoming these problems so that they can stay well when therapy has ended.
4. Building emotional intelligence. In my view all therapeutic problems are related, at bottom, to emotional problems – repressed frustration, distorted anger, running away from fear, self-disgust, boredom or else a simple loss of joy in life. Therapy should reconnect people to their body and to their emotions and show them how to communicate and channel those same emotions. Mindfulness is a useful tool here.
5. A step-by-step procedure for overcoming the problem. This has to do with empowering the client. When he realises that there is a solution that he can learn and apply then confidence is the result. That leads, in turn, to taking small risks (e.g. speaking up to someone else) which reduce the problem, leading to a virtuous spiral in which bigger risks are taken (e.g. moving on in some way) which finally end the problem.
6. A change in behaviour or activity. Somewhere along the line the client has to change what they do, or how they do it. The clear message to you, the client, is: take ownership because no one else can do it for you. A therapist who can get that across without the client feeling threatened or overwhelmed is the one to go for.
7. The last factor leads to the most important one of all: results. Worthwhile therapy achieves measurable results, pure and simple. Anything else leaves you with the booby prize – lots of talk but very little else.