So, this was a first for me. Well, sort of … I did search for a marriage therapist about 10 years ago, which I may write about in another post.
This time it was for my 15-year-old son and with most emotional health issues, it came on slowly. So slowly, that you don’t even see it coming.
As a parent, I think my concern is shared by many. It is simply too much time on video games and not enough face-to-face connection with his friends. I feel males are especially vulnerable to this situation. Female adolescents, just like women, tend to flock together and talk, complain, rant, etc. rather than seclude themselves.
I saw this already building through the winter months of Grade 9, with less and less interest in sports, and more time spent indoors. Then… lovely Covid hits. And how does a nation navigate the spread of a virus amongst school aged children – through online instruction of course! GREAT! More screen time. And – students’ marks cannot drop, they will either stay the same or increase. Brilliant! Who are the masterminds behind these decisions anyway?
Just what my son needs. Just what I need.
So here I go. It’s Google time! Psychotherapy Today and Theravive are two popular websites dedicated to searching for therapists in Winnipeg, so this is where I started. I used the filter, I looked at profiles slightly, but let’s all be honest, we look at their faces. Do they seem friendly? Will my son connect? I feel male might be better… Hmm…
So, I throw the die and email a couple of therapists.
One did not respond, another responded within 24 hours, and another said they were booked for several weeks. Price wise, they were pretty similar and if worth it, I was willing to pay a higher fee. In the end, I didn’t feel that great about any of them. I also realized my bar was set quite high, only because this is something I know a lot about! I also did what most of you likely do. I asked others. I was then referred to three different therapists.
I emailed the one male of the three referred. He responded that same day, late in the evening. Okay, it seemed like a plan. I provided him with about 3-4 lines of information regarding my concerns. We booked a video session for the upcoming week, as my son had requested video (of course!).
During the first session, in which both my son and I logged in to, I chatted a bit about what I wanted for him and all the things I love about him. He and my son then started talking and I let them continue. I checked in with my son after the session and he said it went well. They booked another session for next week.
Yet, I felt the whole process was incomplete…I wanted to know more but because of confidentiality, I didn’t feel it was right for me to pry. So, I trusted the therapist and hoped for the best.
Regarding the communication between sessions, there was none. I just expected the therapist to send me a couple of lines about my son. Did my son engage? Were there any concerns? Perhaps they discussed what small steps they could take together in order for both parties to be understood and heard. What might those steps be?
Instead, the only thing I heard was crickets chirping.
This didn’t sit well with me. After about 5 days or so, I contacted the therapist. I asked if I could email him a couple of questions or have a bit of engagement. He said he would need to charge for reading any email.
??? (Those three question marks stand for three other letters in the alphabet that I want to insert, but hey, I am a professional, so I won’t)
However, that comment made me want to check to see if I misread the letters behind his name…did it say L.L.B or….?
Back to the drawing board. As I write this blog, I still haven’t found another therapist.
Maybe I am the odd duck/therapist here, but in the case of a child under 16, I would absolutely feel it is only normal to have some sort of communication with the parent, all whilst keeping confidentiality in place.
When I take a client on – I take the whole package.
In my eyes, a client is not a detached entity with legs that shows up once a week in my office. A client is a whole person that doesn’t just need a therapist for an hour each week, or bi-weekly or monthly, or whatever frequency is best for that person. They are a human being with feelings whose mind does not shut off between sessions. I want to be there for them throughout the process, and if they are struggling in the area of relationships, I am happy to work with that relationship as well. So if that means it takes me 30 seconds to ask how things are going, or to send them some homework, perhaps a quick email to encourage them to take the small steps we discussed in our session, or read an article, or give them a chance to state concerns; I feel this is part of the package. So when I say ‘Yes, I am accepting referrals’, I am accepting all the ad hoc between sessions as well. That is just me.
Where I personally went wrong when establishing my relationship with this therapist is that I did not communicate my expectations right from the get-go. I presumed or assumed what might take place – after all – I conduct therapy that way, so wouldn’t everyone? So I thought.
“Never presume or assume anything in a relationship, unless you thrive on disappointment.“
Ironically this is what I preach NOT TO DO in my couples therapy sessions. I messed up. Never presume or assume anything in a relationship, unless you thrive on disappointment.
I think I say this to all my new clients that see me, but I will say it again here.
Good for you!!!
Good for you for taking the step to search on Google, look at Psychology Today or Theravive sites, and read those profiles… It is a lot of work – but it is so important. It is so much easier to just ‘hope for the best’ and let life just take its course. However, everything that you are proud of in life came from hard work.
If we could just become a bit more proactive in emotional health and relationships, we could save ourselves a lot of pain and suffering down the road. By the time most couples reach my office – it is too late. Depression now outstrips both cancer and heart disease in the disability category.
In closing, I listed some key questions I feel are important to ask when searching for your next therapist. However, one quick note on price. Please don’t base your decision on price alone. Just like you, I am a Winnipegger and I like my bargains. But you need to realize that experience, personability, ability to connect, and sincerity are so important in building therapeutic relationships. Also be aware that some therapists have extra overhead such as shared office space, administrative services etc. that they may need to factor into the price. Letters behind a name are great, but as long as they didn’t pull their certification/license out of a crackerjack box (as I type this, I fully realize that I may be dating myself) then don’t worry about it. Experience is what counts.
So, here are the points to consider:
- Do they offer a free phone consult prior to booking, and can they provide you with that on the date of inquiry or within 24 hours. I say this because as a new client, a therapist should really be interested in you and your story. If they can’t give you 15 min in a 24-hour period, they probably won’t give you much time in the therapy process in general. (I also had one therapist offering a 15 min phone consult one week in the future – no thanks!).
- Location, parking, aesthetics, etc. all play a large role in the therapeutic process. You need to feel peaceful and comfortable. I personally like the thought of meeting a friend for coffee when meeting with my clients. If I am frazzled from racing through traffic, searching for parking, only to find myself sitting on some tacky overstuffed couch within a stereotypical ‘therapy’ setting… it wouldn’t be my thing. And hey! There are always video sessions, which I personally think are great. Phone sessions work just as well.
- Availability. To me this is a big thing, and therefore I personally block off time for those ‘emergencies’ or new client referrals. There are a number of therapists who are contracted by HR Service companies, Employment Assistant Programs (EAP) companies, or government programs, which mean their caseloads could be comprised mainly by these referrals. The mandate of these companies is push short-term solution focused therapy. (aka they want you off their caseload asap). The therapist is not invested in you longterm and is paid about 70% of what they would normally bill out. I personally choose NOT to do work for these companies because the therapeutic relationship is more important to me than making lots of money and completely filling up my calendar.
- I already spoke about this…so I won’t say too much more. I obviously am aware that not everyone can afford to pay more OR choose a therapist who is not covered by their insurance plan (don’t get me started on insurance coverage for mental health – all I can say is that it is a provincial disaster), however, when looking at the big picture, we are talking about some really important stuff here. Again, YOU ARE WORTH IT, and so is your family. Lastly, some therapists request payment prior to the session, some don’t. If you are aversive to payment upfront, then you might want to ask about this.
- Therapist’s Specialties and Experience. This is worth noting as well. I personally feel that if you are searching for a therapist to help you with relationship/family issues, you would want someone who IS in a relationship and who DOES have a family. In other words, there is no better experience than living life. Also, look for testimonials on their site. I personally want to read other people’s stories and experiences in working with this therapist. DO NOT look at Google Reviews. Any random person can write a google review and there is no way of removing that review or validating any truth in it.
So there you have it. I hope this post provides you with some guidance when searching for a therapist. Meanwhile, try to keep your head up. I am confident I will find the right therapist for my family, and I am confident you will too.