SINGAPORE — As the importance of mental health has become more pronounced in this modern world, individuals seeking to manage the complexities of daily life are increasingly seeking professional assistance to nurture their mental well-being.
However, the task of identifying the right therapist or psychologist is not without its intricacies and challenges. Here, Yahoo Southeast Asia presents three practical steps to guide you through this process:
1. Identify your goals
Dr Annabelle Chow, principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, stresses the importance of understanding one's desired result before seeking help. "First, we need to know what our goals are," she advises.
This introspection involves recognising the challenges one is facing and the outcomes they hope to achieve through therapy. Some individuals seek quick solutions to immediate concerns, such as managing anxiety or sleep difficulties. Others may aim for a deeper exploration of their past experiences to understand current emotions and behaviours.
According to Dr Chow, aligning goals with personal values and circumstances is crucial in determining the most appropriate therapeutic approach.
"Imagine someone with sleep difficulties," she explains. "They might be torn between seeking immediate relief through medication or opting for a more in-depth therapeutic process to address the root causes of their sleep issues."
She stressed that acknowledging and prioritising these goals is essential for successful therapy outcomes.
2. Educate yourself about the available services
Dr Chow also likens finding the right therapist or psychologist to 'speed dating', where establishing a comfortable fit and rapport is vital.
A psychologist is a trained professional with expertise in understanding human behaviour, emotions and cognition, often specialising in assessment, diagnosis and research.
A therapist, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to professionals who provide various forms of talk therapy and support to individuals dealing with emotional and psychological challenges.
Dr Chow acknowledges there are various therapy approaches, ranging from structured cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to more dynamic and exploratory psychodynamic therapy.
"CBT is very skills-focused, following a structured step-by-step process," she explains. "On the other hand, psychodynamic therapy aims to connect past experiences and traumas with the present, helping individuals make sense of their emotions and thoughts."
Selecting the right help, therefore, is a journey that extends far beyond mere credentials and specialisations. While common advice often centres around practical questions – the therapist's qualifications, experience, and treatment offerings – these factors only scratch the surface.
Dr Magdalen Cheng, founder of Encompassing Therapy and Counselling, advocates a more comprehensive approach to therapist selection, emphasising the importance of finding the right philosophy of care and aligning personal preferences.
"As far as decision-making in life goes, choosing the right therapist can offer insights into how we make decisions and how we can make them differently," Dr Cheng notes. "It's not just about the therapist's expertise; it's about finding the middle ground – their philosophy of care."
Dr Cheng highlights the potential pitfalls clients may encounter when they don't consider the entire picture. Some individuals find themselves in therapy that feels ineffective, even detrimental, due to a lack of compatibility with the therapist. "I've heard of people feeling traumatised by their therapist because they felt exposed and unsupported," she explains.
Beyond the therapist's demeanour and empathy, delving into their therapeutic approach and style is essential. This includes considering whether one prefers a more aggressive or gentle approach, and such self-awareness helps individuals articulate their needs more effectively when engaging in therapy.
Dr Cheng also encourages the concept of "therapy shopping" – a process that goes beyond meeting therapists and extends to understanding their therapeutic methodologies.
"Going therapy shopping means you go and interview the therapists," she explains. "How do they work? How can they support you?"
Drawing a parallel with her experience as a parent, Dr Cheng equates this to interviewing a paediatrician before a child is born. It's a way to ascertain alignment and determine whether a particular therapist's approach resonates with an individual's needs.
Dr Geraldine Tan, a principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, also highlights the importance of maintaining a strong therapeutic rapport.
She sheds light on the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship, emphasising the role of mutual understanding and respect. The therapist's priority is the client's well-being and comfort, even if it means exploring alternative options.
"Eventually, when you sit with the psychologist, you need to also trust your instincts and your gut," she said. "It's okay to say, you know, I don't need another session. I won't come back. We won't be offended."
Dr Tan also shares an example that highlighted the significance of addressing discomfort. "One of my teams shared that a young man told her, 'Your voice reminds me of a teacher that had really scolded me a long, long time back,'" she recounts.
Rather than dismissing the issue, the therapist recognised the need to navigate this trigger. This open dialogue allows clients to assert their preferences and, if necessary, take a step back to process their emotions. Such concept of boundaries is a key aspect of a therapeutic relationship.
Even psychologists may make the decision of not seeing a client, as Dr Tan shares an instance where a psychologist from her team who had recently lost a loved one to cancer intersected with a client's grief over a similar loss. "That was too much for the psychologist," she added.
3. Exercise discernment and rely on reliable sources
Annabelle Psychology's Dr Chow emphasises the importance of education in overcoming the stigma often associated with seeking therapy.
"It's a misconception that only 'crazy' people seek therapy," she points out. "Grief, stress and daily life challenges are valid reasons to seek psychological support."
Dr Chow encourages individuals to become informed about the various mental health professionals and the range of therapy modalities available - including art, movement and music therapy. Additionally, she stresses the importance of understanding one's budget and insurance coverage.
She adds that therapy is a long-term commitment, and individuals should consider how comfortable they are with the process and how willing they are to invest in their well-being. Insurance coverage and budget considerations can significantly influence the choice between public and private healthcare options.
Dr Tan from The Therapy Room admits that seeking the right support in the constantly-evolving landscape of mental health can be a daunting task. The array of terms, from coaches to therapists, counsellors to psychologists, can overwhelm those seeking assistance.
She acknowledges that even within the medical community, clarity is essential. "We want to educate them about mental health. We also need to educate them about who to go to," she says. "Even when looking for the right medical doctors, you need someone to tell those individuals about the different specialities and to direct them."
Dr Tan notes that while there has been increased attention to mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, the field is still relatively young. Indeed, the surge in interest has led many individuals proclaiming themselves as mental health advocates, and that has contributed to the confusion of those seeking help.
Some therapists that Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke to also raise a cautionary note regarding online resources when seeking a therapist. They advise individuals to be discerning and question the credibility of sources that rank therapists based on arbitrary criteria.
Companies and clinics pay for advertisements, and these rankings are often mutually beneficial for both parties, according to them. They suggest that individuals rely on credible sources such as mainstream media outlets and also stress the significance of checking therapists' qualifications and certifications.
Accreditation with reputable organisations and adherence to professional standards can give individuals confidence in their chosen therapist's expertise, they added.
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