A brief guide to the often difficult task of searching for and choosing the right professional to solve your problems and doubts:
In some moments of your life it is possible to feel overwhelmed, disoriented and ineffectual. At these times, when the support and advice of friends and relatives are to no avail, it can be immensely helpful to tackle the problems and difficulties that have emerged by seeking the assistance of an experienced and fully-qualified professional.
According to data provided by ISPES (Istituto di Studi Politici Economici e Sociali / Istitute of Political, Economic and Social Studies), every year over 400,000 Italians seek the help of psychologists and psychotherapists in order to face and solve problems that they feel unable to cope with themselves (regarding, for example, marriage and romantic relationships; family dynamics; loss of a loved one; problems at work or loss of a job; stress; substance abuse; anxiety; food disturbances; depression, etc.). With the right therapy, every year, all over the world, psychologists and psychotherapists help millions of people of all ages to have more satisfying, peaceful and productive lives.
In this section there are the answers to the following questions:
- It is worth taking psychological therapy into consideration, if…
- It is worth taking psychotherapy into consideration, if…
- Where should we look?
- How should we look?
- How can we make the right choice for ourselves?
It is worth taking psychological therapy into consideration, if:
- You feel an prolonged and oppressive sense of helplessness and sadness and you are not able to overcome your difficulties despite your efforts and the help of friends and relatives;
- You are unable to make decisions that are important for you and your future in a calm and independent way;
- You experience difficulties and a sense of oppression when going about your daily business (if, for example, at work you feel incapable of concentrating on the tasks that at other times you would have tackled without difficulty and your performance begins to suffer from this);
- You tend to be constantly — and excessively — worried, pessimistic and without hope for the future;
- You would like to talk to a specialist about themes you consider important for your wellbeing;
- Your behaviour and attitudes are harmful for you and those surrounding you (if, for example, you drink to excess, you are very argumentative or aggressive, you abuse drugs, etc.).
It is worth taking psychotherapy into consideration, if…
- You have become aware of continuous psychological stress that causes problems in various situations (for example, interaction with others, professional life, romantic relationships, ability to look after yourself and perform everyday activities in an independent and natural manner);
- You are unable to have peaceful relationships — with yourself, first and foremost, and with all those surrounding you and the people you come into contact with;
- You tend to have inappropriate reactions, frequently repetitive and inflexible, that cause discomfort or suffering to yourself and people who are important for you;
- You have the impression that you express your psychological difficulties through physical symptoms (e.g. stomach-ache, headache, tachycardia, some types of dermatitis, etc.), for which, however, organic evidence has not been found by medical examinations.
Where should we search?
There are various ways to find the right professional:
- If you live in Italy, the psychologists’ association in your region publishes two different lists: that of the graduates qualified to practise psychology at a professional level and that of professionals qualified to practise psychotherapy (in the region of Lombardy, for example, the Ordine dei Psicologi della Lombardia [the Lombard Psychologists’ Association: www.opl.it];
- Ask your family doctor for advice;
- Consult the data bases for psychologists and psychotherapists on the Internet (for example, with regard to Italy: [Pagine blu degli Psicologi e Psicoterapeuti: http://www.psicologi-psicoterapeuti.it/ricerca/index.html; Psico Città: http://www.psicocitta.it/psicologi-psicoterapeuti/psicologo.php];
- Search on the Internet, using the various search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.), typing in the names of the elements that interest us most — for example:
- psychologists or psychotherapists
- the place of residence (town, city, province, etc.) or the place where you wish to find the professional’s office
- type of approach required (e.g. cognitive /psychoanalytic /hypnotic, etc.)
- specialization in problems similar to the ones declared (e.g. relational disorders; anxiety; eating disorders; depression, etc.)
- Make use of word of mouth: that is, ask for advice and names of professionals from friends and acquaintances, benefiting from their experience, whether direct or indirect.
How should we search?
Once you have chosen one or more professionals who seem to suit you, it is necessary to ensure that they are:
- 1. qualified — that is, that they have the training and approach suited to the treatment that interests you: which universities and postgraduate schools have they attended and what clinical placements and supervision groups have they participated in? What is their method, orientation and theoretical basis?
- 2. specialist — that is, competent in the problems that they wish to tackle: do they have the specific experience regarding the correct treatment for the problems and symptoms that you are experiencing? Are they specialized in treatment that is useful for your particular case?
- 3. fully qualified — that is, they are able to produce degree and postgraduate certificates, and certificates demonstrating that they are on the relevant professional register and are members of recognized professional associations.
In order find this information, it is sufficient to visit the professional’s website; alternatively, during the first face-to-face encounter, you could ask them to provide you with information and assurances regarding their professional training and the method adopted. It is, moreover, very likely that professionals will have certificates relating to their training on display in their offices, where they can be inspected by prospective patients.
It goes without saying that it will often be necessary to meet more than one professional in order to make the right choice. Getting more than just one ‘first appointment’ is perfectly legitimate and a professional will not have any problems with this: often, if the choice is made carefully, two of these encounters will be more than enough. What is important is to specify this, explaining to the different professionals, not only what has driven you to seek help, but also what you are seeking and what your expectations are — as well as, naturally, making sure you let all those you have approached know what your final choice is.
How can we make the right choice for ourselves?
Once their competence and credentials have been ascertained, the principal factor to be considered in order to make a choice between various equally qualified professionals is the level of trust and understanding created during the first encounter.
Psychotherapists and their patients, like psychologists and their clients, must work together. The way these efforts can produce the hoped-for results is to establish a relationship of cooperation and empathy that induces the clients/patients to feel completely at their ease and to form part of what is in effect a therapeutic alliance, the essential premise for the attainment of the therapeutic goals and the subsequent overcoming of the problems that are the therapy’s raison d’être.
The quality of the relationship is, therefore, the secret of successful psychotherapy and, consequently, one of the crucial elements to bear in mind when seeking the right professional.
Having said this, it is also necessary to be aware that not all professionals are suitable for all clients/patients. After ascertaining the professional’s qualifications and experience —elements of fundamental importance, but not themselves sufficient to find a psychologist or psychotherapist able to ensure the quality of the relationship as mentioned above — it is advisable to try to obtain the ‘right bond’. How can the ‘right bond’ be defined in a precise and unequivocal manner? Perhaps the best way would be to give a number of examples:
- for a successful and well-known professional, who is open-minded and intellectually rich, it will be important to relate to a highly-qualified and cultured psychologist or therapist with an excellent educational background that is reflected in their refined use of language and an acute and constructive dialectical capacity;
- For those struggling with problems of inadequacy linked to their origins and a strong impulse to seek social revenge, interacting with the previous professional would be, to say the least, counter-productive: someone able to speak in a straightforward, direct way and to receive the patient in a plain and unadorned office would be more likely to succeed.;
- A young female worker with performance anxiety and social phobia will find it easier to confide in and cooperate with a youthful professional woman having a warm and informal approach who reminds her of a benevolent friend rather than an implacable judge all too eager to criticize her;
- A consultant suffering from an obsession for cleanliness and order — who would certainly find it difficult to interact with the previous professional — could be more at ease with a therapist having a neat and tidy appearance and a more formal approach.
The examples could continue ad infinitum, but what really matters is the ability to convey the sense of the ‘right bond’: therapists, like psychologists, must inspire confidence and credibility. Moreover, they must be able to make us feel at ease, in particular because sooner or later we will have to divulge our innermost secrets to them, entrusting them with aspects of ourselves that we have never revealed to anyone, so that we have the right to make what we are saying known to someone who is fully capable of understanding it, the way we express ourselves and the needs underpinning our accounts.