What exactly is a therapist, what do they do, what kind of background do they have, and how do I know if they’re any good? If you’re considering hiring a therapist, you probably have some of these questions.
Let’s look first at what is a therapist. Right now, the term therapist is used interchangeably with other terms like counsellor, psychotherapist, social worker, psychologist, and marriage and family therapist.
Psychologists and social workers are the only regulated professionals, meaning they have a governing body, which is somewhere the public can report problems. In Ontario, they’re developing a college of psychotherapists and mental health therapists that will be a governing body and an umbrella for psychotherapists, chaplains, music therapists, art therapists and others, for the purpose of regulating those professions and providing more protection for the public.
Until that comes into effect, however, your therapist or counsellor may very well not be regulated. That’s why it’s important to understand what education and experience you should be looking for in a therapist.
Background and training
You want to be looking for somebody who has done post-secondary education with a focus in psychology or counselling. You might find someone who has a Master’s in Social Work who has done a counselling focus, or someone who has specialized training in specific counselling techniques, such as gestalt therapy or play therapy. Just know that it’s okay to ask about the person’s educational background and credentials.
In regard to experience, many therapists become generalists, developing an understanding of the things people do to make changes, whatever the issue. They apply the same formula, method or skills whether a person is struggling with marital problems, addictions, depression, grief, or any other situation.
Other professionals will do additional training and have a focus in one particular area or age group. It’s your personal choice if you want a generalist or someone who has a special focus. Again, it’s okay to ask the person about their background.
What does a therapist do?
A therapist provides a safe, confidential place for you to come and speak about your challenges. A therapist is well-trained and well-versed in listening, helping you to: better understand the situation you’re concerned about, feel empowered to make changes, better cope with your difficulties, and make decisions and/or improvements in your life.
Many people find therapists easy to talk to because they’re non-judgmental, and they’re one step away from your daily life. Therapists help you reflect, keep you accountable, and identify what motivates you, increasing your chance of being successful in meeting your goals.
Is this therapist good?
At Family TLC, many people have told us that they think our therapists are good because they quickly feel comfortable with them, or because they feel like the therapist sees them as bigger than the problem. Others have commented that their therapist is optimistic, and brings into the room the courage that the client might not have, to face the things that need to be faced, at the client’s pace.
A good therapist is willing to offer some prescription or some direction, not just asking the question, “How does that make you feel?” When you’re working with a good therapist, you may feel more successful and productive, and notice that if you follow what you and the therapist talk about, things start to change in your life.
Aside from background, experience and skills, you want to assess the “fit.” At Family TLC, we do a free intake that helps us match you with a therapist we think will be a good fit for you, perhaps someone with specialized training in the area of your particular concern.
We also help you prepare for your first visit by pointing you to the article, “Making the Most of Your First Counselling Session.” While it’s common to feel nervous or uncomfortable the first time, we often have people tell us that the time flew by and they can’t believe they talked the whole time.
The most important thing to look for in a therapist is that it’s someone you feel comfortable talking to, and who is helping you make positive changes in your life.