Finding the Right Therapist

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In the journey to become a therapist it is a well-known phenomenon that a family member will inevitably say, “You could start with us!” The good-natured joke gets a laugh (the first 50 times), but at some point we have the obligation to clarify the ethical mandate: No treating friends and family. To be more specific, therapists should not see clients with whom they have a dual relationship. For example: Met in a daily yoga class, share friends or relatives, live next door to one another. The lines can get a little blurry, and in some instances dual relationships are unavoidable, but for the most part we all do our best to avoid circumstances that could lead to bias.

Over the years I have had friends and family approach me about how to find a therapist, and what they should look for. While the end decision is ultimately up to them, there are some options that can simplify the process when searching.

  1. Insurance or Cash?

Deciding this right off the bat will save you a lot of phone calls. If you are set in going through your insurance, you will want to only look at providers who are “in-network.” Your insurance company provides this list, and you can use that to narrow down. If your plan is a PPO, or you have great coverage, you can also look at providers who bill “out of network.” As a provider who does not contract with insurance companies (for reasons I can include in my next post), I always give the option of a “superbill” for PPO clients. This allows the client to receive some reimbursement directly from their insurance company. If you decide to forego using insurance, disregard the above jargon, and move to number 2.

  1. Start with a search engine

PsychologyToday.com is a great resource for narrowing down providers by region, specialty, and theoretical orientation. GoodTherapy.org is similar. There are several others, and one option is to google: Therapist finder. These sites have profiles of their therapists where you can get a feel for their personality and treatment style.

  1. What is your main reason for seeking therapy?

What are you experiencing that led you to this point? Search for someone whose specialty or area of interest is aligned with your specific need. Don’t seek out someone who works with complex trauma if you are dealing with career stress. If you are having marital distress, look for someone who specializes in couple’s therapy or relationships. All MFTs are trained in working with depression and anxiety, so if that is your area of need, you can look for someone whose message sounds welcoming to you.

  1. Choose a few

Make a list of 3-5 therapists who you think you would feel comfortable with, and start calling. Expect that most will return calls within 24 hours Monday-Friday. While most of us make it a practice to always return calls, there are some who won’t call back if they aren’t accepting new clients.

  1. Feel free to schedule with more than one therapist, and test the waters

 Studies have shown that more than anything, the most crucial aspect of therapy is the relationship. Therapists know this, and we want you to find the right fit. It is not uncommon to have a session or two to feel out the process, before committing. You will be invested in the process emotionally and financially, and you want to feel like you can share with this person. Don’t be afraid to be clear about what you want, or to ask questions. We want you to get the most out of this process.

If you are starting the searching process now, good luck! If you have follow-up questions or would like more details on anything I wrote, feel free to comment.

Photo Credit: Flickr

LIES

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There is a common misconception that therapists are lie detectors. Even in grad school, many of us feared not being able to tell when a client is lying, and not knowing how to handle it when they did. We learned a saying: If they bring the lie, you work the lie. Meaning: If the lie is how you want to spend your time, I will follow you down that rabbit hole. It is your time being wasted if that’s what you choose to bring.

Therapists are not specifically trained to distinguish when an eye twitch means lying and when it is allergies, but one thing that we are good at is remembering what you tell us. You get an hour of undivided attention, and it is in my best interest to remember what you tell me so that I can utilize all pertinent information. That means that there are times when stories don’t add up, and my red flag censor is alerted. Depending on what point we are at in therapy, I may ignore it, or I might express my confusion. I’m human too, and I want to be sure that I am remembering correctly, and not making assumptions.

To be fair, overt lies in therapy are rare. None of my clients are forced to see me, and due to the fact that they come of their own volition, I make the assumption that there would be no benefit to them lying to me. It is more likely that I encounter the lie by omission. These make sense to me. I am not in the business of forcing people to do anything, and I believe when people choose not to be truthful with me, it is because they are not ready to be truthful with themselves. When this is the case, I rely on time to do the work for me. Lies become exhausting, and truth will always find its way.

Photo from A Thought and a Half Blog

“Conscious Uncoupling”

If you spend any amount of time online, you may be aware that there is a new trend in divorce called “conscious uncoupling.” Gwyneth Paltrow coined the term when she announced her split from her husband of ten years, Chris Martin. Her message stank of superiority. She concocted an image to appear as if this decision came after long discussions over eco-friendly glasses of red wine. Forget the passé divorces with hostility and hurt feelings, this is just a mutual decision to no longer exclusively be with one another. Just this morning, Jewel echoed this sentiment with the, “tender undoing,” of her own marriage. I take great offense to this new wave of happy dissolutions, and I am worried that there are not more people outraged by this. My problem is not that I don’t believe that they are telling the truth either–it’s that I believe they are.

What does it mean if we can now leave a marriage, not when we have hit rock bottom, but when we are bored? Both of these highlighted instances shine a light on an epidemic in our culture that we no longer believe anything worth having is worth fighting for. We now have admiration for couples who say, “It wasn’t that bad, we are still good friends and will continue to be in each others’ lives. We are simply choosing not to protect the one thing we took vows to protect.” Poof, it’s over. And what message does that send to their children? It says to me and most likely others who hear it that there is nothing sacred about marriage anymore. It says that when things are hard, don’t do them. What was once entered into after consideration, is now the reverse. We have unconscious coupling because there is no consequence to the exit. I am not anti-divorce, but I am anti-not trying. I often tell the couples I work with that my bias is for the marriage. I have yet to see a problem insurmountable, as long as each individual is willing to take responsibility for his or her own role in the problems. If you are still civil enough to “remain best friends,” (a quote from Hilary Duff’s press release regarding her divorce), why can you not be civil enough to look inward and find a way to consciously stay together for better or for worse?

Calling Advice Seekers!

As you may have read in the about me section of this blog, one of my goals is to offer advice in a “Dear Jacqueline,” format. If you’ve had any questions that you didn’t want to ask friends and family about, or weren’t satisfied with the feedback you got, feel free to send it to me!

All submissions remain anonymous, and you get to do a good deed by helping me fulfill a life dream. 

Email questions to: jacquelineplante.mft@gmail.com

 

 

Man Up

            Wedding season has officially begun (at least on my calendar), and it has caused me to reflect on the choices people make in choosing a partner for marriage. Whether we gravitate to bookish charm, tall dark and handsome, or laid back and silly, we all have certain characteristics we find more attractive. What we are attracted to is often deeply rooted in our early experiences, and in our brain chemistry. What I find charming might not do it for someone else, which is great, because competition for a stable mate can be rough as it is.

            With some of these thoughts in mind, I indulged in some Real Housewives drama, and couldn’t help but think of this when one husband was targeted for being “too into the women’s drama.” He was being called some pretty derogatory names, and his manliness was called into question. I couldn’t help but wonder what his wife felt in hearing that, and how she regarded his “manliness.” I certainly didn’t feel his actions were respectful to the women he was interacting with, and that got me thinking about what being a man means to me.

What makes a good man:

            He is respectful: A real man knows how to convey his opinion in a way that leaves room for discussion, and does not belittle  

            the person he is interacting with (man or woman).

            He has good character: He doesn’t follow popular logic or opinion, and knows that often the right choice is the hardest.

            He shares: In a relationship, a man takes ownership of his feelings and is responsible for them; he does not blame.

            He seeks support: Life can be hard. A man knows this and is not afraid to reach out when he needs another hand.

            This list is by no means comprehensive, but there were certain things I left out, that to me do not convey manliness. A real man does not have to be physically strong, only mentally. A real man does not have to get wasted, but he does know how to relax. A real man does not have to have children, but he takes care of them when he does.

Feel free to comment with what manliness means to you.

 

If you are in need of therapy, or know someone who is visit www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com

Parenting

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I’ve come across several articles recently on the topic of parenting. This morning my cousin posted a link to this one on Huffington Post, in which the author discusses the idea of making long-term parenting decisions versus short-term. She writes, “What makes my children happy at age 10 or 15 is somewhat different from what will make them happy at age 25, 30, 40 and beyond.’ She is absolutely right. I can vividly remember times where I thought my parents were being so unfair. Right before high school, they decided to pull me from public school, and place me in an all-girls Catholic school, where I knew no one. I truly believed this was child abuse. I was 14 years old. At 26, my outlook has changed significantly. I cherish, not only the quality education I received, but the psychosocial growth that occurred in having to step outside of my comfort zone and create new relationships in a new environment. This skill serves me well on an almost daily basis–therapists meet new people often, and have to create relationships very quickly. I had to build that muscle, and it was very uncomfortable in the beginning.

I imagine that was not easy for my parents. The whines of a 14 year old girl can be bone chilling, and they had to put up with a lot of complaining. They did not back down. They knew that at 14 I was not capable of making long-term life decisions, and they did it for me. They were parents who parented. Nowadays it is not uncommon to hear a parent give in to a child’s demands. Parents emit fear in front of their children, and worry constantly about their child’s present level of happiness. I can tell you that there were several months where I was unhappy. Nothing about starting over is easy, but I got over it. The short-term unhappiness was far outweighed by the long-term benefit of the choice they made to hold firm. I learned disappointment and fear, but I also learned that I can start fresh, I can make new friends, and that no matter how hard it seems in the moment, things always get better. I don’t know that I would be the same person without having gone through that journey.

It seems that the fear based parenting takes place today because the parent-child relationship is primary. Parents put the wants and needs of their children so high that they forget about their own needs and the needs of their partners (if they are lucky enough to have a partner in parenting). Any threat to the parent-child relationship is a breakdown of the primary relationship, and that can be frightening. Who will mom turn to if she has not continued to cultivate the relationship with dad? She needs the child’s happiness as validation, which is an unhealthy place to parent from. I can speak from experience in saying that a child’s happiness is not a reflection of good or bad parenting. The overindulgence that leads to daily “happiness” is what also leads to lack of coping skills in the real world. If we want to have trust in the future generations, we need to know that they can handle a multitude of emotions without having a breakdown, or without having to turn to medication. Strong parenting, and life experience will facilitate that.

 

If you are having trouble with parenting, feel free to reach out: www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com 

Photo by Mindaugas Danys via Flickr

Open Mouth–Insert foot. Why we can’t take back hurtful words.

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Lately I have been working more predominantly with couples, which I am loving. I get to observe the intimate dynamic between two people, and find out what makes their partnership unique. I often begin with the “How did you meet?” question, because it gives me a glimpse into the brighter times of the relationship, and takes some of the pressure off of the, “we had to come to therapy” vibe. I am amazed at how the recollection of happy memories can often be a catalyst for change in the moment. I can almost hear the couples’ thoughts: “We were happy once; we can be happy again.” Nothing makes me happier as their therapist, than the moment hope is achieved.

            Sometimes things are not so lovely, lovey dovey, easy. Boo, more work for me. (Kidding!) The more challenging aspect often has nothing to do with the problem a couple comes in with (she spends too much, he is a slob, someone had an affair). It has everything to do with how the couple is speaking to one another. John and Julie Gottman observed this at their institute, and were able to predict with great accuracy, which couples would stay together, and which would end in divorce–strictly based off of the ratio of positive to negative interactions. I watch that play out on my couch, when I see couples choosing their words vs. vomiting them.

            So often one partner will bring up an example of a horrible threat to leave or a cutting statement such as, “I never should have married you.” The perpetrator of the hurtful words usually comes back with the retort: “I didn’t mean it,” but once the words are out it is too late. How is someone supposed to forget those words were spoken? They have become a scar on the relationship–even when treated it still remains. A constant thread of doubt in the mind of the recipient. Doubt is crippling in many ways, but it is relationship kryptonite.

            Consider the use of words in any relationship, and consider them carefully. The ones spoken in anger may not hold truth, but they cannot be taken back and they will hang in the air forever. 

Photo credit: Paul Reynolds via Flickr

Facebook and FOMO

            Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new diagnosis out there, but it isn’t in any of the books (yet). It is known as FOMO and it seems to be targeting a large number of young people. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: general sadness, anxiety, ruminating thoughts as to whether one’s life is interesting enough, and a misguided belief that other people are having more fun. Symptoms can be alleviated by ignoring social media.

            If you’ve ever been scrolling through Facebook and feeling not so great about the path your life has taken, you have experienced FOMO. If you noticed that two friends went to lunch and you didn’t get the invite, and your day was ruined, you have experienced FOMO. (The second one doesn’t seem to happen as much to the men out there does it?)

            FOMO is the fear of missing out, and while it is not a disease, it is becoming an epidemic. One which is more prominent in those whose primary source of contact with friends is via social media. Many of us are guilty of harboring jealousy for a friend whose life looks flawless. The keyword here is “looks.” The problem with using Facebook to gage a person’s happiness is that is can be so skewed or misleading. I am guilty of it too! It’s not like we all hurry to post a picture of that day we stayed in pajamas until 4pm, or rush to post a status update to remind people how monotonous our job has become. We all want to present our best selves, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

            However, I do become concerned when I notice an influx of clients who base their success or fulfillment on another person’s Facebook life. It is an easy trap to fall into. We are all aware that Facebook does not encompass every aspect of our own lives, but for some reason when we see it as a representation of another person, we don’t take that into account. We start comparing the quality of our relationships, the size of our birthday parties, the shape of our bodies, the success of our careers. The list is endless of the comparisons we make on a daily basis. Sometimes the comparisons can be a motivational factor.

            Some of you might be familiar with Maria Kang, a young mother who posted a picture of herself in a bikini with her young children, and the caption, “What’s your excuse?” She claims that photo was meant to motivate other young mothers, with the thought: If she can do it, so can I. The reactions she received were varied, and many were negative. Many women’s initial reaction was to think of the challenges in their own lives, and to assume Maria did not face those same challenges (genetics, full-time job, lack of support from spouse). Now I don’t claim to know what challenges she faces, but I do know that she did not post them on Facebook… until she received backlash. If we were to get caught up in that game with our own friends we would quickly learn that everyone’s lives come with hardships, and while one aspect might look appealing, it might not be worth trading for another.

            So my advice is this: The solution does not have to be drastic. I am not suggesting that we remove ourselves from social media altogether, or assume that everyone is being fake. But I do think that next time you are feeling the green-eyed monster start to creep in, take a minute to put things in perspective. Yes, I am upset she got a promotion and I haven’t, but I am working hard as well. Yes, their relationship looks great, but I’m sure they have fights too. Those quick little reminders will help you from snowballing, and will help you to remember that these are your friends, and their happiness is yours as well. 

Who is therapy for?

            I feel a shift in the culture. For a long time, therapy was seen as taboo. Tailored to damaged people with serious disorders. For people who couldn’t, “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” so to speak. I see that changing now. It is becoming acceptable to seek therapy, and I love that the experience is being talked about. I love that the phrase, “My therapist says…” has become silly and almost cliché. That means that seeking help or thriving for improvement is not something we have to do behind closed doors anymore. You may have even seen some therapy sessions being televised as entertainment. The reason this shift strikes me as such a positive is not just because it means I have a job; though that is a plus. I find it so great because it means therapy is no longer a market that is out of reach or out of touch with the mainstream population. What would be the reaction if you told your best friend you were in therapy? We can probably all recall a time or a moment in which therapy seemed like a necessary tool, and my guess is even as you read this you might have a thought floating around about why you might go (tough relationship, struggles with coworkers, bad anxiety, feeling stuck).

            So with therapy being accessible, increasingly affordable (either through health insurance, sliding scale providers, local agencies), and generally effective, what keeps people from scheduling their first session? My guess is fear. Fear of choosing the wrong therapist, fear of what might come out (Repressed memories are not as big of an issue as one may think. They are like quicksand–encountered by few), fear of what kind of commitment it will take, fear of change. All of these fears are completely valid, and at least one is experienced by nearly everyone who decides to start therapy. What I would love to do is alleviate one of the common fears: the first session.

            The first session is the scariest for lots of reasons. You are going to a new place and meeting a new person–scary. Scary if you were doing it under the best of circumstances. But usually you don’t decide to start therapy when things are going perfectly, you decide to start therapy when things are going downhill, and since the therapist knows that, it feels like a check against you. It isn’t. As a therapist, it is not my job to judge you, it is my job to work with you. I am not going to tell you how badly you have failed or what you have done wrong (that is something you’re scared of too, right?). The last thing I want to do is dig the hole deeper. So judge your therapist in the first session. Take control, and make it an interview. Ask yourself if you can be yourself with that person. Ask yourself if you can confront some big issues with that person. If the answer is no, then that therapist might not be the right fit. But try another one. We all set out in this field to help, and to give the best care possible, and if you don’t find the right person right away, you will eventually. The first session in an investment in moving forward, and you want to get a return on that investment. It will likely feel strange, but that goes away, and you are left with an amazing opportunity for growth and empowerment. 

 

If you are interested in scheduling a session, visit my website: www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com

 

And as always, feel free to submit questions via email to jacquelineplante.mft@gmail.com (Submissions will be kept anonymous).