Dear Dr. Batya,
We have recently been through a major crisis and need counseling. I don't know where and how to get a therapist. What questions should I ask?
- B. N. Pardess Hanna
It is great that you have recognized a problem and are attempting to find solutions. Choosing to go for therapy is not easy but often wise. A nonjudgmental and qualified therapist can help you see your problem from a different perspective and enable you to turn a crisis into a time of growth. While there once was a stigma in seeing a "shrink," most people recognize that it is the smart person who attempts to resolve problems and therefore move on.
There are many types of counseling. You can be seen individually, with your partner, other family members or in a group. This may change over time and depending on the nature of your crisis. For example, while I sometimes see individuals for marriage counseling, whenever possible, I like to do sessions with the couple together as we can move faster in therapy. There is no one best way, just what works best for you and your specific situation.
The therapist often has a particular way in which she works. Some work short term and are very focused on problem solving in an endeavor to help you move on. Others delve more into the past. A cognitive behavioral approach is treatment that is based on having you use insight from problems in the past to help you focus on current issues and ideally change your behavior. The most important thing is to ensure that whoever you choose has real expertise and is compatible with you.
Ask the therapist upfront if he is licensed and by whom? In order to call oneself a clinical psychologist in Israel, for example, one must be licensed by the Health Ministry. This requires an internship, exams and certain training.
The word "therapist" or "psychotherapist" (which sounds like psychologist or psychiatrist) is confusing, so beware of these titles. Anyone, even the local bartender, can call themselves a psychotherapist or therapist and hang up a shingle with absolutely no training. Check out his credentials and degrees and check whether he has training and expertise in the area in which you are asking for help. You must feel comfortable and free to ask questions. Trust your intuition.
When setting up an initial appointment, check out cost, length of session and see if your specific issue is something that the therapist deals with. This first session is likely to be one mainly of information gathering on the therapist's part. Ask your therapist what she envisions in terms of treatment duration and the nature of the sessions. It may be too early to answer exactly, but you and the therapist should be determining together some very specific short-term and longer-term goals for your therapy. Ideally, these will be related to the crisis that brought you in for counseling in the first place.
Therapists may be accessed in many ways. Your health fund has a list of psychologists and psychiatrists. You may need a referral from a physician. Another option is to be seen privately. Some fees may be covered by supplemental health care coverage. Therapists can also be found in clinics, hospitals, through the school, universities and other community settings.
Finding a therapist who is best suited for you can be a process of trial and error even when you know whom to ask. You can check out organizations that deal with English speakers such as ESRA, AACI or Telfed or check with rabbis, school personnel, community lists or simply ask a friend or family member. Even with all of this, you may discover that you have to shop around as the therapist someone else chooses may not be right for you.
I always tell my clients when they walk in the door for the first session that they have already done the hardest part. We are often afraid of a new experience and finding a therapist is no exception, but let your therapist take over at this point. Now it's your turn to sit back, relax, prepare to do some hard work and know that many if not all of your problems can be solved.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org
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