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Becoming an Informed Consumer: Understanding Therapy

Date Added: November 06, 2010 09:34:27 PM
Author: Jeff Chernin
Category: Health: Mental Health

If you are considering therapy, there are some myths which I need to dispel and some ideas you should consider in finding the right therapist. Of the myths, probably the hardest one to overcome is that to be strong means to be able to solve problems on your own. For LGBT people, there is a tendency to go for help when we need it, but some people still believe this fiction. This type of individualistic thinking leads to stress, which can lead to heart disease, lowered immunity, and other problems. Paradoxically, admitting your weaknesses and knowing when to ask for help is a form of strength. Another myth is that mental health professionals do something to make people change. As nice as this would be, people are responsible for making their own changes; a therapist helps people make the changes they desire. A third myth is that therapy can be accomplished in a few sessions. While some problems are eased by short-term therapy, most people gain more from a longer therapy experience. A November, 1995 Consumer Reports article noted that the longer people stayed in therapy, the more they improved, and people who stayed for more than six months reported greater gains than those who left earlier. People said that they got better in three ways; therapy eased the presenting problems, it helped them to function better, and it enhanced personal growth. This growth included better self-esteem, more confidence, and enjoyment from life. Another part of functioning better is developing insight into unconscious motivations, thoughts, and beliefs. Some of our thoughts and motives are automatic, and thoughts need to be slowed down for us to understand them. Discussing issues in therapy is a way to slow our thoughts down by verbalizing them. In fact, slowing down thoughts changes brain chemistry similar to medication. Long-term therapy appears to be as effective as medication in treating depression and anxiety. When entering therapy, therapists should welcome questions, such as education level, experience working with LGBT people, and type of therapy. Regarding whether to ask a therapist if he/she is lesbian, gay or bi, many therapists are already out, so their sexual orientation is already known in the community. A consultation or the start of therapy is a good time to ask questions you have. Should you see a LGBT therapist? There are several advantages to seeing a LGBT therapist, such as having a greater understanding of your issues. There are some advantages to seeing a non-gay therapist, however, especially if you would like to have a nongay perspective. After the first one or two sessions, you should be feeling pretty comfortable about opening up to your therapist. If you have problems doing so, bring it up in session. If the therapist becomes defensive, continue your search. If not, it’s a great way to explore your own issues with intimacy. According to authors Sharon Stocker and Theresa Walsh, there are several qualities that people should look for in a therapist. A good therapist tailors therapy to suit individual needs, encourages clients to voice concerns regarding the therapy process, and has good credentials. Further, a competent therapist often points out options and possibilities and does not tell you what to do. Another important quality is the ability to form a respectful relationship. If you detect homophobia, a good therapist will welcome your concerns and will not act defensively or try to make it about you. Acting non-defensively should lead to reassurance that a therapist has worked through enough of his or her own homophobia to work with you. If a therapist suggests that your problems are related to your sexual orientation, don't walk out: Run. Assuming that your problems relate to your sexual orientation is a mistake. If you have problems that stem from your orientation gender, it is oppression, not your orientation, which causes problems. Over the course of therapy, the major focus should be kept on you. Therapists should talk very little about their personal lives, and even then it should be with an intention to be helpful to you. Further, good practitioners will not talk about their current problems, become involved with your life outside of therapy, or spend time with you outside of sessions. Even though being LGBT may be like living in a small town, there should be no reason to be invited to or to have your therapist over for social events. Sometimes, people are reluctant to enter therapy because they fear it will be painful. Keep in mind that therapy actually helps release pain. And releasing pain is only a slice of what how a good therapist can help you; while therapists treat depression and anxiety, among other psychological conditions, therapy is also a journey of growth and self-discovery. Jeffrey Chernin, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles. He can be reached at www.jeffreychernin.com  
 
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