What To Know When Looking For A Therapist? A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.
I know the podcast’s main audience is psychology students and professionals and this is still a critical topic for all of us to understand. Not only because it helps us to better understand our clients and their thought process about coming to us, but because there is a good chance we will all need to see a therapist at some point in our lives. For example, a psychology student might need to see a therapist to help them deal with the university workload or another pressing difficulty, as well as psychologists might need to see a therapist to help them cope better after the stresses and listening to potentially heart-wrecking events in their therapy sessions. This is a critical podcast episode for everyone.
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Clinical Psychology Collection. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Why Do We Need To Know What To Look For When Looking For A Therapist?
To elaborate on what I put in the introduction, as psychology students and professionals, there are a lot of different tough decisions we need to make. Students need to make good choices so they have a good foundation for their career and knowledge base in their pursuit of a career in psychology. As well as psychologists make tough decisions about their clients, interventions and treatment courses.
Therefore, these stressors and other factors can add up over time to decrease mental health in a person, if they’re sad or worried then it can affect their performance and ability to function in everyday life. So acting fast and getting professional help is critical.
Additionally, as psychology students and professionals, we’re all familiar with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, that is the gold standard for a wide range of conditions, including depression from Beck (1964) and anxiety and other behavioural “problems” (David et al., 2018). As well as chances are we would all or most of us would seek out a cognitive behavioural therapist at least first of all, if we need psychological help.
However, just in case there are any listeners, that aren’t overly familiar with CBT or want a refresher, here’s some basics. CBT is mainly defined as a conceptual model (Beck, 2021) and the psychologists practising CBT conduct themselves according to the principles of guided discovery and collaborative empiricism (Beck et al., 1979) with the therapy involving homework assignments and review, regular process monitoring and eliciting client feedback all being important features of each session.
In addition, CBT techniques are properly applied in an experiential, here-and-now way so treatment is focused on the present, not the past. This is helpful because it focuses on your present concerns at this moment in time instead of dismissing them (Friedberg and McClure, 2015).
Lastly, practitioners of CBT employ a wide range of change-inducing techniques. For example, mindfulness, behavioural activation, social skills training, exposure and cognitive restructuring. As well as exposure techniques are very important when it comes to treating anxiety disorders.
But this raises the question, for ourselves and our clients, of how do we know the psychotherapist is competent and effectively at applying this flexible approach?
Especially when I’m sure the psychology professionals amongst us can back me up here, but there are always some co-workers we see and we suddenly question how they got professionally licensed in the first time.
This is even more important to consider when Creed et al. (2016) found that whilst many therapists said they faithfully followed CBT, some failed to follow the basic principles, so they were using a fake type of CBT for lack of a better term.
5 Signs Of A Potentially Effective CBT Therapist
As a result, when it comes to interviewing a prospective therapist (of course this is if you go private because in the public sector you tend to just be given one to the best of my knowledge), it’s important to know the sort of answers and information you need to know if the therapist is a CBT therapist or not.
Firstly, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is action-oriented, so the vast majority of therapists will set you self-help or homework assignments throughout the course of the therapy, because CBT is an active, goal-oriented treatment that might be short-term but gives you skills for the long-term. Now I say the vast majority because one of my clinical psychology lectures did do CBT but she often forgot to set it by accident. These assignments help you to use your coping skills that you learnt about in therapy and apply them to your real life by generalising them. This is a critical part of the process.
Secondly, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy involves a lot of collaboration with you and the therapist effectively co-designing the treatment plan. Since in the first few sessions your therapist will interview you by conducting an assessment and they’ll ask questions about the symptoms’ intensity, duration, frequency and interference with everyday life. Then after you get a diagnosis, you and the therapist will collaboratively discuss a treatment plan and estimate a treatment timeframe. Giving you the opportunity to ask questions and actively participate in the treatment.
Which is why I much prefer these more open forms of therapy with the therapeutic alliance playing more of an active role, because it seems fairer on the client at the end of the day. Especially as I will always remember what my lecturer said, we are the experts in the knowledge and theory, the client is the expert in themselves.
These more collaborative therapies definitely make that truer.
Thirdly, the therapy sessions of CBT focus on helping a person to challenge their thoughts and activate their behaviour. Therefore, if you’re wondering how you would deal with these maladaptive coping mechanisms and negative emotions, most therapists will say that you can manage your distress by facing your fears and anxieties. As well as you can learn to tolerate these negative emotions by active coping and learning to approach and accept previously avoided situations, feelings and thoughts. But all of that would of course be examined in more depth in a therapy session.
Penultimately, the agenda of the sessions is always set at the beginning of the meeting, because psychology is very precise and no therapy session is never chaotically done. There is always a plan. And to counter a common myth here (that is more for any non-psychology readers here) instead of you lying on a couch venting about past problems, your therapist will discuss and plan out the agenda of the session within the first few minutes of every session. With last week’s homework being reviewed, you prioritising the agenda items and a plan for addressing the difficulties you face are collaboratively done.
Finally, symptoms are tracked to make sure there is progress in CBT. Due to assessment measures track your progress throughout the treatment and qualitative reports, like your beliefs about your progression, and Quantitive reports, symptomatic measures and guide treatment planning are used too. These trackers are really useful in therapy because they help the therapist to know what’s working and if they need to pivot their plan, because something is or isn’t working for you as the client.
That’s why CBT must always in flexible.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
Personally, whilst this episode really did end up serving two audiences. The podcast’s main audience of amazing psychology students and professionals, because it helped to understand the sort of things that our clients need to understand and expect from us, and it helped psychology students to improve their understanding of CBT. As well as the episode would have also helped non-psychology people understand therapy better too, there is another point to the episode.
I want to remain us all as psychology students and professionals, that just because we study and work in a profession that specialises in mental health as one of its many subfields. It doesn’t mean we are immune to decreases in mental health and mental health difficulties. So this is an unofficial reminder to always seek out professional help if you’re struggling and get support from friends and family as well.
Never suffer in silence.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s biological psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Clinical Psychology Collection. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy References
David D, Cristea I, Hofmann SG. Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is the Current Gold Standard of Psychotherapy. Front Psychiatry. 2018 Jan 29;9:4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00004. PMID: 29434552; PMCID: PMC5797481.
Beck, A. T. (1964). Thinking and depression: II. Theory and therapy. Archives of general psychiatry, 10(6), 561-571.
Beck, JS. Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (3rd Ed.). New York, Guilford, 2021.
Beck, AT, Rush, AJ, Shaw, BF, Emery, G. Cognitive therapy of depression. New York, Guilford, 1979.
Friedberg, RD, McClure, JM. Clinical practice of cognitive therapy with children and adolescents. New York, Guilford, 2015.
Creed TA, Wolk CB, Feinberg B, Evans AC, Beck AT. Beyond the Label: Relationship between community therapists' self-report of a cognitive behavioral therapy orientation and observed
skills. Adm Policy Ment Health 2016; 43: 36-43
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