The internet is an amazing resource. Now at our finger tips you can quickly type in any question and get instant feedback and information. Note, I say feedback and information. Too many people are taking the information they read online as the absolute truth or fact. Many people are not skeptical or critical enough when evaluating nor questioning the QUALITY of the information. Many articles are personal opinions presented as fact. Qualified people can present opinions but unless they can substantiate them with clinical peer reviewed information, they are still opinion. So what is a person to do today with all this information?
The purpose of this article is to help people considering seeking counselling to be more informed about how counselling works and what would be realistic expectations to have of counselling. It is to help people make sense of the information they are reading and use to make their experience of counselling better, not interfere with their ability to work with an expert.
The fast availability to any information is really amazing. But people need to proceed with caution when reading information especially on mental health and in trying to diagnosis themselves or a loved one. As a generally rule, free information has a lower likelihood of being quality information. It may be so superficial and high level as to be quality less, this is especially true when it comes to trying to diagnosis yourself or a loved one. People charge for quality information and for diagnosis purpose there is much more training, experience and knowledge a person need that is not going to be available to non-professional mental health people. Most medical and mental health professionals are not selling a widget but their time and they charge for that. People do not give things of value away for free and these things cannot be learned via google searches and wikipedia. So for best outcome it is best to leave diagnosis to the trained professional.
So what would be a good way to use all this free available information?
One way is to educate yourself, but understand the limit that this self-education can provide in contrast to a trained professional. The information gain online could be an excellent way to educate a person about the technical terms, vocabulary of symptoms and increase their language to speak to their mental health professional. Unfortunately, many people will spend 5 or 10 or even 20 hours reading documents on line or self help books and think that makes them enough of an expert to diagnosis their problem and come up with a treatment plan. If a person becomes absolute in their thinking, i.e. my diagnosis is absolutely right, it makes them less open to a trained professionals assessment and help.
Self diagnosis is risky, because there is much more training, knowledge and information that a trained Master Degree Level therapist and up will have in assessing a person. People without clinical training do not have access to the training and knowledge professionals do. If a person gets wrong their “diagnosis” the solutions they use won't work and you can make the problem or situation worse and lose valuable time.
Most people seek outside help when what they are trying isn't working (often from lack of knowledge or mis-self diagnosis). Some people will insist that their plan or diagnosis is right (even though their self treatment isn't working) and want a professional to execute their plan. Again, using information to level the communication gap between lay person and professional is useful, but allowing a trained professional to do their assessment is even more vital to a good outcome. Again if what you thought would work isn't working, hiring someone to do an ineffective plan probably won't work either. So using the internet to assist you but not let it take over the direction, training and experience of a trained professional.
For many people, they do not even consider that they were wrong in assessing their situation. For example I have many people who come to see me, insisting they have a sex addiction problem or a porn addiction problem or a communication problem and they want me to fix that problem. While the client is right they have a problem, they often haven't defined it correctly or incompletely and hence this is why their solutions don't work at home. As a professional, it is the therapist job, to further evaluate the client, their situations, their beliefs, their choices and their self-diagnosises and solutions. Humans are very good at finding patterns, but the way our brain is designed it is not very good at finding the correct pattern. So part of a therapist's job is to be an investigator and really see what is going on, partnering with the client to gain information.
As a client, while it is scary to look at yourself or consider that you may not be in control of the counselling process, working with your therapist and being open to alternative ways of considering your information is helpful. Some clients insist and fight their therapist's attempt to further evaluate the situation. At this point the client may want to evaluate if they are ready to relinquish some control to their therapist in order to get help.
Therapists need to work with their client and gain the information the client has about their situation and how they made sense of it. Trained mental health professionals understanding of how the brain works helps us see things that non trained people will miss. Mental health counsellors know that people find incorrect patterns frequently or see patterns that don't even exist. We also have extensive training in human development, attachment, trauma psychopathology, systems (how people interact with one another), various theories and interventions and much more information not available via the internet. Sometimes a big part of the beginning of counselling is actually learning how to do counselling and learning what your therapist can actually offer you. Because so many people don't know how we work, what we do or what we know,it can be very hard to imagine that we have so much to offer. But we do! The average Master Degree Level therapist has a minimum of 10,000 hours of clinical training and then probably at a minimum 10,000 hours and up of additional training and experience. We have lots of new ways to do things, think about things and solve problems.
Who is the Expert
This is a really important point to consider. With the internet, many times clients may feel that they are more the expert than the paid professional they are hiring. This is a challenge for both client and therapist when its not clear who is the expert and who will be running the counselling technology.
Clients are experts of their own lives and their own experiences. However, they are not necessarily the expert in being able to accurate identify what the problem is or see the patterns of their life correctly. If they were, they would probably not be seeking help. Counselling theory and the interventions also require a lot of training, supervision and experience to use correctly and at the right time in treating people. Now with the internet, people can search about Gottman's or CBT or Solution Focused or the many other theories out. But with out proper grounding and training in the theory, using the various interventions from the various theories is just gimmickie and can be harmful. A trained master degree level person who has been certified has both training in the theory and the interventions of the counselling type.
Counselling, psychology, human theory and brain knowledge is not accessible to most people just like the information that accountants, physiotherapists, dentists or even hair dressers have. People spends years in training to specialize to help others. The average person does not have the time to learn these skills and that is how these specialists develop. There is no shame in seeking help for something you don't know, however people often feel differently about this when it comes to personal mental health or relationship issues. But just as no one feels bad about not knowing how to fill a cavity, it is always curious when they feel bad or shameful in seeking help for a life difficulty that they've never had training for like death, job loss, being a new parent or spouse or marriage difficulties.
In counselling, therapist and client are actually partners, each having their own domain expertise. But unfortunately, for too many clients armed with 10 or 20 hours of wikipedia and google searches, think they are domain expert on mental health, counselling technology and they can't get it to work so they think they just need the professional to execute their plan.
When clients don't pause to consider they might not be right in either their self-diagnosis or solutions and that's why their course of action has been working, they may find counselling frustrating when the therapist is pushing back and wanting to further assess and get more information. Counselling is a process, not like a McDonald's drive through where the client places their order and the therapist delivers.
Usually the reason people come into counselling is that they have often identified incorrectly the problem and therefore by default the solutions implemented based on a wrong diagnosis are not working and not getting better. Getting the most out of counselling requires you to know where your expertise lies and where it doesn't. If you need help dealing with not being in control or not knowing tell your therapist and they can help you with it.
You, the client are the expert of your life and experiences. You can decide if your therapist is a good fit for you in terms of how comfortable you feel with them and creating goals to measure your progress of getting better. You are responsible for giving your therapist all the information s/he needs and communicating how much effort you are will to put in. The most important technical issue for a client to assess in their therapist is that they have at least a Master's degree in Mental Health Counselling or Psychology and that they have continued with their education and have certification in at least 1 counselling theory.
Get the most out of Counselling
Counselling is best thought of as a technology. It requires the professional to get a lot of training to be able to use counselling technology and then it requires constant additional training to keep making sure it is excellent and running at its best. Basic master degree level training probably in the United States covers about 20,000 hours between the Master degree, supervision, thesis and practicum onsite training and internship. This is a lot more than the average person doing wikipedia and google searches. In addition, most quality degrees ban its students from using wikipedia or self help books.
Most degrees only allow their candidates to use clinical journal articles and research.
If you want to be able to maximize your experience of counselling, be open to the fact that you may not have assessed and diagnosed your problem correctly or completely. Partner with your therapist and work with him or her to examine all the information you have and be willing to provide it to the therapist and any other information they need. As a consumer of counselling, you need to be wiling to give your therapist a basic level of trust so that they gain valuable information they need to help you. If you don't have trust tell your therapist so they can work with you to increase it so that you can work on the presenting issue.
If you need more information about the therapist or their theoretical approach, just ask, a good therapist will be happy to give it to you.
Counselling is really a process with a beginning, middle and and end. When you meet your therapist for the first time they have no information about you other than what you decide to give them. You as client probably have no idea how counseling works and what your role and responsibilities are and what are your therapists. A good therapist with help teach you how to be effective in therapy and if you don't know or are confused, let your therapist know. As good as they are they are not mind readers.
Trusting the process and that your therapist will know how to use the technology of counselling, regardless of their theoretical orientation will lead to the best outcome. For more information on how we help people visit our articles more information on counselling.