Mental health is serious business and you want to be as protective of your’s as you can because it is the basis of everything in your life–your happiness, your motivation, your ability to interact with others, to learn, grow and all aspects of your life now and in the future. With these thoughts in mind, I am laying out some information that I believe will be of special value to you.
One area where you need to be more of an interviewer than a “customer”, client or patient is when you decide that you may wish to engage in some type of therapy. Remember, therapy doesn’t mean you’re damaged goods or that you can’t do something on your own. It’s a process to help you clarify issues, come to terms with some things and learn new ways of approaching life. The secret, if there is truly a secret, is to insure that you are working with someone who is up to the task and that’s not always the person with all the initials after their name. These initials can be meaningless, so don’t be impressed.
Anyone who has any reluctance to answering your questions and tries to see this as some indication of paranoia on your part is suspect in my book. No one should hold back on supporting their educational background in any area relevant to providing therapeutic services.
The most recent example of persons offering “counseling” services comes via the Duggars scandal where the “counselors” are self-appointed by, so they say, God. I don’t believe any state recognizes this type of credential as acceptable. Also, doing carpentry is not seen as a form of therapeutic intervention.
First of all, not all therapy requires that you lie on a couch while the therapist assumes a position just above your head (as Freud did). Lying down may be comfortable, but it’s not necessary and most people don’t use a couch, anyway. Those who are strict Freudians might still like this little trapping of their profession, but even there they might have done away with it.
Therapy comes in just a few forms which, for the most part, are revisions of other therapeutic interventions. Primarily, therapies change the way you approach life, or help you learn to control physical reactions.
What type of therapy will be most beneficial for your problem and who is most qualified to provide it are two of the most important questions you will ask in your quest for help. Always remember one thing, however, and that is that you are a consumer of a service, not a supplicant before a higher power.
Remember, too, that no one can offer a guarantee of results and not everyone is sufficiently trained or has the experience for every problem. As there is in much of medicine, there is specialization, licensing and on-going training. Never be afraid to question, never feel that you don’t have a right to understand or that any concept is beyond your ability to understand. The good teacher and the good therapist have this one thing in common; they make the complex simple to understand.
Do your research, ask questions and seek the answers you need. Remember, too, that therapy doesn’t always mean either “talk” therapy or medication. Many times, it may be a combination of the two, if needed and a referral to someone who has prescription privileges may be in order.
One more thing to remember here. I’ve reviewed mental health providers’ websites and I find that they offer a “menu” of therapeutic interventions including everything from vocational issues to criminal court evaluations. The piece that is missing is how they received training in these modalities.
Taking a seminar or a course does not prepare someone to do child custody cases nor does it insure adequate forensic evaluations. True, some courts may accept these individuals as qualified, but, unfortunately, the court personnel may not have the requisite knowledge to evaluate the credentials of the individual and not all states have a strict set of standards for practitioners in these areas.
Therefore, it becomes even more important that, whenever considering a specific service, you look for true certification or a state-approved and licensing-board-mandated background. This is not a restaurant where the menu provides some assurance of the skill of the chefs. We’re dealing with lives and a cavalier attitude or a fudged resume for the purposes of self-aggrandizement is totally unacceptable and, probably, actionable.
You might look into local licensing board rules and regulations for actions against such persons. No, I’m not suggesting lawsuit. But I am suggesting that not everyone out there is totally qualified and they fudge on their letterhead, the signs they put on their doors and the certificates they put up on their office walls. Bits of paper or plastic signs mean nothing.
Note: Persons listed in magazines, newspapers or local penny savers have bought ads, which is a guarantee of nothing more than they could afford to buy the ad. I recently read of a “therapist” who had advertised in a consumer psychology magazine and who had diplomas on his walls and when a client looked into his “license,” he had none. Did this in two states so far.
What do you need to ask?
Increasingly, psychological testing, not psychiatric testing, is becoming the norm for school evaluations and job placements, military service, forensic settings and for kids and adults with attentional problems and developmental disabilities. My question is: Who’s doing the testing and are they truly qualified to do this?
Fake diplomas and degrees are a very real problem and the crackdown hasn’t closed all the diploma mills. What should you know about their academic preparation and the supervision they received? The question isn’t one of the degree that they indicate they hold (Ph.D., Ed.D, Psy.D., MSW, M.A.) or their licensing credentials (licensed psychologist, LPC, LMHC or LCSW, APN), but how they came to be “expert” enough to insure quality evaluations or therapy by adequately prepared individuals. Do you know that someone can have a doctorate (Ph.D.) in sociology or school management/supervision and call themself “Doctor?” And would you know about this ruse?
At the very least you want answers to the following:
- Where did you go to school and was it accredited by the APA (American Psychological Association) or some other nationally-recognized professional organization? Next, look up that group and see what its reputation is and if there have been complaints about it.
- Are you licensed? What type of license do you have and for what does it permit you to practice, e.g., family therapy, clinical psychology, addiction services, etc.
- What type of therapy do you offer? Possible choices include cognitive behavioral, analytic, humanistic, or dialectical behavior therapy. Have them explain what their type of therapy does, how long it will take and about how many sessions per week will be needed. Note: Gay conversion therapy is no longer seen as a valid form of therapy and some states have written laws outlawing it.
- You may want to know whether they are covered by insurance so you can get reimbursed. This could be a major point where you will be told something like, “Oh, I don’t deal with that.” Do not allow them to put you off with this type of response. It might be a warning bell.
- Where did you do your internship? Are you still an intern?
- Do you have a handout for your practice’s rules and procedures?
If you wish to see if a licensed professional in your state, or any other state, has been disciplined, placed on suspension of license, fined, had their license pulled or were placed under supervision, the state boards of licensing publish lists of those disciplined on their websites each month. It is usually found in the monthly summary notes open to the public.
Go to the state site, look for the specialty and read the public notices or minutes of meetings. Some states, such as California, send monthly notices of these actions. You can use these links to insure that a professional does have a license in your state or that they truly are whatever they are presenting themselves to you as being. Not everyone who calls themself “Dr.” is an MD or has a license as a psychologist. And not everyone may say they are a psychologist unless they want to be fined and have a potential jail term in their future. Learn what all those initials after their names mean and you’ll be a wiser consumer.
What about child abuse?
Child abuse and/or neglect is never condoned and children are to be protected, not only in the presence of proof-positive, but when there is a suspicion of abuse or neglect and the list of those who are mandated to report is long; just about everyone in a position of trust.
Those who report are not subject to lawsuit unless it can be proven that the reporting was done, in my understanding, in a malicious, baseless manner to further some personal agenda. The reporting is not sufficient when the individual who is mandated to report has not notified the correct agency. So, a teacher telling the principal or a therapist telling their supervisor or clinic manager is not sufficient to satisfy the letter of the law in these instances. See the California link below for more information on this.