Asking for help is hard enough. Finding the right kind of help? Well, that is a whole ‘nother ball game!
With so many options for support and help in our lives, we can get pretty overwhelmed with knowing what we need and who we need it from. I mean, I work in this field and I still feel overwhelmed with it all.
Do I need a therapist or coach? Can I have both? What kind of therapist or coach do I need? Do I just need better friends?
The more questions you have, the more you start to circle around the idea that “Maybe I am just blowing this out of proportion” or “I just have to (blank)”. The words “I’m fine”start to dance around your head, overwhelming you like ants at a picnic.
There are so many considerations and in a sea of possibility, it is not uncommon for fear to shut us down. So let’s take some time and break down a few things to help you feel better about choosing the right person/people on your support team.
First off, do you need a coach or therapist?
Well, it would probably help if you knew the difference, right?
Let’s start with coaches. I like to think of them as skills trainers and value miners. Their jobs are to help you clarify stuck points, set goals and enact change. Their work is set in the present and future — while some aspects of your past will be discussed, they are not processors and will not work through residual conflict, trauma or complex issues from your past.
They are NOT licensed mental health providers (or if they are —like me — they cannot legally act as a mental health professional when “coaching”) so while experiences of anxiety, self-esteem issues, depression, grief & loss, etc may show up throughout the coaching process, coaches are not in a position to diagnose or treat mental health concerns.
A therapist focuses more on the “why”. Therapists engage with an individual’s past, present and future self and have the ability and capacity to explore at greater depth. They may discuss aspects of the unconscious and subconscious mind and work to help a client better understand their clinical struggles and identify coping strategies to help live well with symptoms and concerns in their lives. Therapists may also work on a longer term basis as the problems and goals may be more complex.
But, it is a myth to assume that coaches work with “well” or “healthy” patients and therapists work with pathology and illness. Honestly, there is a bit of a grey area that overlaps the work coaches and therapists do which means making the choice may not always be straight forward. For me, I like to think about a few things when assessing my needs and the needs of others:
How much of their past is dictating their life today and would they benefit from spending time unpacking and working through those experiences?
Are their struggles affecting their ability to function in their everyday life? Ex. Anxiety that is keeping them from being able to go to work OR apathy and fatigue makes it hard to get out of bed or shower.
Do they already have a clear roadmap for who they are and where they want to go; they just need some tools on how to make the next part of the journey? OR, do they need someone to help them create the map? The former suggests they may need a coach, while the latter is a job for a therapist.
What if you choose the wrong one?
It happens all of the time. I frequently have clients who want to work on coaching that I refer out for therapy or vice versa. Part of our ethical codes is to make sure we are providing people with not only the right service but at the right level of care. We assess needs and acuity levels and make recommendations on the best fit from there.
Okay, so once I know the type of provider I need, how do you know if that provider is the right provider?
First and foremost, you want to make sure that you like this person. There is always a way to find someone qualified (and yes, training and qualifications matter…just not as much as this in my opinion). But if you are going to spend your time with them, one of the most precious resources that you have, then you better like being around them. Now, to be clear, that does not mean you will like everything they say or do - their job is to challenge you. But if you think the person is arrogant, annoying or a major d-bag, then you will never get anywhere, no matter how qualified or knowledgeable they are on the matter.
Ask yourself if you can be honest with them. Providers get it wrong all of the time. We make educated guesses and infer a narrative. When we get it wrong, we need you to be able to call us out. After all, you are the expert on your own life and we work for you. So, if you feel bullied by or pressured by a provider or you don’t feel comfortable giving that feedback to them then I suggest you say “peace out” and find a new provider.
Do you have a clear understanding of what they are doing and they “why” behind it? One of my professors in graduate school told us that when we finish a therapy session, they should be able to talk to us and our client separately and we should both have the same understanding of what we did in the session, where we are going and why. Why is this important? Because if you don’t know what you are doing, how is that setting you up for long term success? And, you may start to feel resentful, frustrated, confused or even hopeless. Now, this means that part of the responsibility is on you as the consumer to ask AND, the bulk of that responsibility is on us to make sure we are having that conversation regularly.
Do they have appropriate training for what you are looking for? It is painfully frustrating when I see or find out about someone practicing outside of the scope of their training. It happens all of the time. Personal trainers giving nutrition advice or acting as physical therapists, football players and actresses giving medical and nutritional advice, and one of the most offensive, to me, is when I see coaches working with people with eating disorders. Now, I could chronicle all of my frustrations here but that would be an entirely different blog post. The point I am making? Make sure that your provider 1) stays in their lane and practices within their scope of expertise and 2) has the necessary qualifications to be offering this type of care.
Is there any way to talk to them before you make an appt?
That’s the worst, isn’t it? You make an appointment weeks or months from now because that’s the soonest you can get in and when you meet them, you’re not sure it’s the best fit for you. But, you stay because the idea of sifting through more resumes and websites, agonizing over the choices and then waiting this long to get in with anyone else feels even worse. Plus, there is no guarantee the next person will be the best fit either.
The good news about coaches is that many of them will offer you a free consultation session prior to starting. They may advertise this directly on their website. Otherwise, send them an email or give them a call!
In my business, I set it up as a free 30-minute consult session where the potential client gets a chance to interview me and get to know my style. It is also the time I get to ask about their goals and presenting concerns to help determine if my skills and expertise are the right fit for them.
For therapists, it may be a little trickier. Not every therapist provides a free consultation but it’s worth calling to see if you can set one up or at least talk to them for a few minutes via phone. This is much easier to do with therapists and providers in private practice as many agencies do not have opportunities built in to the day for providers to meet with clients for free or to make introductory calls. But again, it’s worth checking in to.
For me, I have made the decision that I will offer any potential therapy client a free 20-minute consult wherein they can come in and check out the space and chat with me. I share a little about my background and style and then leave the rest up to them to ask whatever they would like or feels helpful for them. I know there are many opinions about whether or not to do this but I have found that one of the worst things about finding providers is the idea that choosing one has always felt like rolling the dice and seeing what you get and that does not feel like adequate care.
When I moved to Portland, I had to find ALL NEW providers — a mechanic, doctor, dentist, therapist, hair stylist…the list goes on. And when you are inundated with so many other responsibilities and anxieties, you don’t want to have to work so hard to feel like you have to make the right choice right away. And when it comes to therapy, it is hard enough making the ask for support. Why make it any harder by setting people up to feel stuck in services they don’t feel good about or take months to find the right provider?
You deserve to get help. AND, you deserve to get the help that is right for you. If I can offer any additional support for you in getting connected with a provider or you want to talk about the options I have available, feel free to email me.