Choosing a Psychotherapist

J. Patrick Kelly, OFM Features

This is one of a series of articles by members of the Province’s Wellness Committee. The previous submission, titled “Still Your Brother, Your Sister” was written by Sr. Vicki Masterpaul, OSF.

The HNP Wellness Committee survey, conducted on behalf of the friars of the Province, indicated that 92 percent of friars would avail themselves of professional counseling (which I will use interchangeably with the word psychotherapy) if they experienced the need. This is a positive indication that friars have moved beyond the stigma that historically had been associated with consulting a psychotherapist (“What is he? Nuts!”).

Though we are professed religious, we are in no way exempt from the range of issues and problems that beset our lay sisters and brothers. Religious profession does not bring with it a pain- or problem-free life. Sometimes, for some, the opposite is true.

Positive Effects
When we’re chatting among ourselves as brothers, one friar may mention that he’s seen a lot of change in another friar (alluding to the fact that therapeutic intervention appears to be working). We often see the positive effects — and positive affect — with our brother(s) who have availed themselves of professional psychological help.

The question that this brief article attempts to answer is: “How Do I Find A Good Psychotherapist?” I will attempt to provide some answers.

First: There are a number of types of psychotherapists. Those with a MD are psychiatrists who provide both verbal therapy and/or medications. Some have doctorates (PhD, EdD, PsyD or DMin) or are trained to provide verbal therapy only, but are very often associated with a psychiatrist who can assess for, and prescribe (if needed), medication. In such a case, the psychiatrist relies on the doctoral-level therapist to assess the effectiveness of the medicine during thier usual weekly therapy session. 

There are also therapists who have a master-level degree (MSW and/or are Licensed Clinical Social Workers). They are also trained — and licensed — to provide psychotherapy and many, like the above-mentioned providers, participate in insurance panels that will reimburse the patient (often called ‘client’ in the world of psychotherapy). And, there are those with master-level degrees (some are pastoral counselors, grief counselors, etc.) who — though many are licensed — work with or under the direction of a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed social worker.

Which one of the above does one choose?

Researching a Specialist
Ordinarily, if a friar might benefit from medication (for diagnoses such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety), a psychiatrist is required. Soon, state legislatures may allow psychologists to prescribe certain classes of medication, but that has not yet happened in any state. Sometimes, the psychiatrist will provide both verbal therapy and medication, but more often than not, the verbal therapy portion will be assigned to a doctoral-level psychotherapist or licensed social worker. The client generally sees the counselor weekly and, perhaps monthly, sees the psychiatrist — for about 10 minutes — to review the client is responding to medication.

For friars, an easy way to find a therapist would be to ask among the friars with whom you live/minister who they may know to be good, or call some of our own professionally-trained friars for a recommendation. 

If you want more anonymity, you may want to call the diocesan or archdiocesan vicar for religious and ask him/her who they know to be good. Call that therapist’s office, ask the secretary if they accept your insurance (and give its name), and see if the therapist has an available appointment for you.

Also, you may want to do a computer search. On the Psychology Today Web site, select the item that says “Find a Therapist” then enter your zip code. After the list of towns is provided, I recommend you opt to widen your search by three miles and then review the towns listed. Select a town, and it will present the therapists in that town. There is a brief statement (written by the therapist), which, if you’re interested, can be expanded into the entire bio provided. In the expanded professional biography you’ll see the list of the areas the therapist is trained to treat.

It is important to be aware that there is no way of knowing if the therapist can, in fact, do all that they indicate as their competence. If you’re very concerned, a call to the attorney general’s office of your state can let you know if the therapist has been censured.

kelly_1Determining a Connection
It takes a good six to eight sessions to really determine if a therapist is right for you. If, after that number of sessions, you are uncomfortable or experience that the therapist just doesn’t understand what you’re communicating, it is perfectly appropriate to tell that to the therapist and to look for a new one.

Just because a therapist came highly recommended, or a friend found him/her to be excellent, doesn’t mean that you will be able to “connect” in the same way. Every person is different. Also, not every therapist is right for every client who presents him/herself for counseling.

A final note to remember: As a professed religious and/or ordained minister, it’s wise to ask the therapist, during the first session, if he/she has worked with religious or priests before and what is his/her personal bias toward the Catholic Church. You don’t want to wind up the brunt of a therapist’s anger at, or dislike for, the Church.

— Fr. Jim is director of FrancisCare, A Counseling Service in Elmwood Park, N.J.