Monday, 12 November 2012

Five questions to ask when choosing a counsellor

I've had an... interesting... run with counsellors over the years.  Before I was diagnosed I sat through a lot of talk that achieved nothing because the underlying cause - Aspergers - wasn't even identified, let alone addressed.  So that you can learn from my experiences, here are some things to bear in mind when you're sussing out a therapist. 

How could you be mad at a face like this?


Does this person have experience working with adult Aspies?

This doesn't just go for Aspergers - whatever it is that's driven you to seek counselling, you have a right to know whether the therapist has experience in dealing with it.

Over the first 25 years of my life I saw seven different therapists. I'd never counted them until now. Wow, that's a lot.  None of the seven - who ranged from school chaplains to psychologists in private practice - identified me as having Aspergers. By not addressing that, we were wallpapering over the cracks that belied serious structural issues.

I've had sessions where the whole time's been spent quizzing me on how I see the world, because the apparent novelty of an articulate adult Aspie - and a female, no less - is a learning opportunity for the therapist. I'm all for teaching people about Aspergers and dispelling myths, but not when the meter's running and I'm paying. Therapy sessions should be about working on your stuff, not teaching the therapist.

Does the therapy have a goal, and a plan to meet it?

Related to the 'teaching the therapist' idea, I spent a while with one chap where the individual sessions were interesting, but there didn't seem to be a point.  It wasn't going anywhere.  I wasn't getting better at any of the things that were giving me trouble.

A plan of attack - what you want to achieve and some sort of plan for getting there - is vital.  Even if you change it as you learn more, if you have to ditch one technique and find another, or re-set the goal posts because you've made them too hard to reach or too easy, you need to have a map you both agree on, charting your route and destination.

Does this person have a barrow to push?

More recently there was a counsellor who seemed OK, if without a particularly clear plan, but I had an odd feeling about them. Something just felt a bit off.

Then we had a session where she told me that meditation and yoga were the work of the devil and must be avoided, obviously not realising I'm a part time tealeaf-reading pagan.

This therapist wasn't affiliated with or employed by a church or religious group (as far as I know), just a regular person in private practice.  There was no reason to suspect a sudden close encounter of the religious kind.  But there it was.

I didn't go back.

Does this person treat you like you're broken, defective, or at fault?

One member of the Secret Seven told me it was my own fault I had no friends because I was fat and ugly.

I'm never going to be neurotypical.  It just isn't going to happen.  So therapy that's aimed at making me neurotypical - either in terms of thought processes, or in terms of pretending and passing - is more wallpaper.  I want therapy that helps me be a healthy, happy Aspie, not a sad Aspie who's a good actor.

Can you trust this person?

Another member of the Secret Seven was moving from a practice he shared with various other health-type people to his own office, and told me he'd call me when he was set up and we'd resume sessions.

He never called back.  I later found out he considered himself to have as much work as he wanted, so used the move as an opportune time to shed a few clients by pulling a 'don't call me, I'll call you'.  To make it worse there were other psychologists at the practice he was leaving who could have taken over his case load, but he decided to just leave us hanging instead.

Is a dick like that someone you want to entrust with your innermost secrets?