Q: I have decided I really need to see a therapist, but I'm not sure how to know if someone is the right one for me? How do you know what a good therapist is and if they are helping you or not. I was let down by one before who cancelled on me several times and it's taken me a long time to think of trusting another one.
A: The decision to see a therapist is already anxiety-provoking, so I am sorry to hear that you have not had a positive experience. There are a number of factors to consider when you embark on receiving psychological support.
1. Are they properly qualified and accredited?
You wouldn't visit a doctor without medical training, so why would you entrust your psychological care to someone who isn't fully qualified? All therapists in Ireland are accredited or validated by iahip.org or iacp.ie or psychotherapycouncil.ie. This means that their training has been fully checked and certified as competent. It also means that they are keeping up to date with their own training and education.
2. Are they reliable?
Your first contact with a therapist should be professional and reliable. Whether by phone or email, they should be clear about their availability, where they work from and their fee structure. Once a session is agreed, the therapist should always be there, except maybe under rare circumstances beyond their control.
3. Are they easy to talk to?
It's normal that for the first few sessions, you might feel nervous or unsure what to talk about, but your therapist should help you feel relaxed enough to share what's on your mind. Also a good enough therapist will almost never talk about themselves, unless it is to deliberately create relationship and to help create more insight for the client.
4. Have they excellent listening and observational skills?
When you talk to friends or family, because they're not trained therapists, they often listen to respond. They are reactive and may tell you what they think or what you should do. Your therapist does not listen to respond. They listen to receive and understand, so that they can reflect back what you are experiencing. This way, you can hear it for yourself, which will create more self-awareness and offer you new perspectives.
They are also practised in hearing the subtext in what you are not saying, or what you are afraid to express. This ability to practice deep listening means they can separate their own thoughts to provide a space for you to grow and develop. By doing this, they open awareness to the unknown and unexpected.
5. Are they good communicators?
You should be able to understand what they are saying and if you're not sure, they should be able to reframe it, so that you become clearer as to what they mean.
6. Are they human and caring?
All the research for effective therapy shows that it is the quality of the relationship between therapist and client that makes for progress. Your therapist should be hopeful and believe in you and your potential. At times, they may challenge you and that can be difficult. But they should always have your back. They should be comfortable with your difficult emotions, such as anger, fear and crying.
A good therapist never undermines you or makes you feel bad about yourself. Once you've gotten used to therapy, after each session, you should feel as if a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. I wish you all the very best with it.
Q: I'm getting worried about my son who is 15. He spends hours on his Xbox when he should be upstairs studying. He's in third year and has no interest in school or his studies. All he cares about are his school discos and hanging out with his friends every weekend. After school, he goes straight to his game console. When his father and I try to talk to him, he says we are always nagging him and then he walks out, shouting at us. His attitude is becoming really difficult for us and we all seem stuck.
A: It sounds as if your son's issues may be tied up in how you are all communicating. You are absolutely right in saying you are 'stuck'. You are stuck in a developmental logjam. Your son feels he's being treated like a child. You and your husband are frustrated as you are failing to influence him the way you could when he was younger.
You all need to move out of this power struggle to find new ways that will benefit you all to feel more empowered. It's also really important that your son feels more enabled in this process. When you are alone with your husband, write down a list of your expectations for your son. For example, he goes to bed by 11pm, he does his homework as soon as he comes in from school, he spends one hour a day on his Xbox. Now write another list of all the things that matter to him, such as spending time with his friends, discos, smartphones, playing his games, buying clothes, etc.
Arrange a calm time for you all to sit down together and tell him that you'd really like an easier relationship with him. That you realise he is getting older and feels nagged by his parents. Maybe illustrate for him how you and his dad really want to make things better for you all. Then, try to draw up a contract. Between you, agree that if he does his homework as soon as he comes in from school, spends one hour a day on his Xbox and goes to bed by 11pm, that you will give him money towards his phone, let him go to the school disco and contribute towards his clothes allowance.
Also tell him that if he follows through on one or all of these, you will both promise not to nag him or treat him like a child. If he fails to follow through on these, be clear that you will not give him any more money towards the things he wants to do. And you can take back the right to start nagging him again. You need to make him see how this contract will make his life easier.
He sounds like a typically impulsive 15-year-old and is doing what he feels like, without thinking of his future. By trying to create a better relationship with him, you can influence him to start taking himself and his future seriously so that he can build a future with meaning and possibility.