By Támara Hill, MS, NCC, LPC
Do you have a therapist? What about a psychiatrist to prescribe medication? How do you feel about them? Mental health care has become a controversial field for many reasons but most clients and families are fearful of being mistreated, misdiagnosed, used, misunderstood, controlled, and mistreated. It is a sad reality that fearful and uncertain clients drop out of therapy completely. Others may self-medicate or speak to and learn from family and friends who can offer suggestions or “therapy” for free. In my sessions with clients, I often remind parents and families that they have, what we can conceptualize as, 50% control over their treatment. For example, clients can decide who to see for therapy or medication management, refuse to pay for services that they are not satisfied by, file a grievance if they are not satisfied with their service, among many other things. This article will review and discuss some of the things that you should keep in mind while seeking mental health care for yourself or someone you love.
It is important that we all research what we are being told by a healthcare professional and research the type of medication being prescribed, the diagnosis, and other important factors involved in healthcare. I often provide www.drugs.com to my client’s and their families to research medications prescribed. But there are many other sites that can offer education and insight into mental health challenges.There are also thousands of websites, apps, and articles on everything from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts to sleep disorders, personality disorders, and impulse control disorders. Social media provides multiple avenues to research and confirm a diagnosis. Unfortunately, there are some clients who simply rely on the knowledge and experience of the therapist or mental health professional treating them. This is not the route to take as independence and self-knowledge will be the most important tool when pursuing mental health services. Independence begins when you take control of your treatment. Some things to remember to kick-start the process include:
- You (or those close to you) truly do know you better: It is often very disappointing to hear my client’s discuss how overly confident, arrogant, and self-assured their previous therapist or psychiatrist was while treating them. It is even more disappointing to find out that every decision that has been made in the life of a client was influenced by the healthcare professional and not the individual client or those close to the client. Many of my teen clients seek outpatient care hoping that they will once again regain their level of independence in making decisions on the type of medications they would like to try and the type of providers they hope to see. Unfortunately, there are some providers who will take the reigns and do whatever they see fit for a client without truly listening to the needs of the client and family. Don’t forget that you (and those you designate) should be making the ultimate decisions on your healthcare. Recommendations or suggestions by healthcare professionals are just that, recommendations or suggestions but they should never take your freedom to make the final decision.
- Professionals don’t always know how to correctly conceptualize your illness: It is a known fact that the field of psychology is not an exact science. We have come a very long way in studying, diagnosing, and treating certain mental illnesses. We have also come a long way in identifying illness. But this does not mean that we always know what something is, we always know how to treat something, or we always know how to make sense out of symptoms. If you haven’t noticed already, the DSM (and its many revisions) is simply a guide to mental health professionals and an organized way to communicate with other professionals and patients/clients who are seeking care. The best way to conceptualize the DSM is to see it as a manual that guides mental health professionals in making sense out of symptoms but does not, in any way, always accurately describe an illness. This is why so many people are misdiagnosed, misunderstood, and are unable to obtain necessary services to treat symptoms. For example, depression symptoms (low level of motivation, anhedonia, depressed or sad mood, delusional thinking or other psychotic features, confusion, appetite difficulties, sleep difficulties, and suicidal thoughts) can be very similar to the negative features of schizophrenia or a personality disorder such as borderline personality disorder. It is likely that a mental health professional (or even professionals) can misdiagnose you or someone you love. This is not unheard of. Motivation to learn about, research, confirm, and even questions symptoms/diagnosis will help you or a loved one avoid confusion and obtain the services that can be helpful in recovery.
- Some healthcare professionals are motivated by selfish gain: It is also a known fact that some mental health professionals are in the field for personal reasons. Those personal reasons can include but are not limited to: attention, a certain level of power (through authority as someone who can make decisions on someone’s life, supervising, or making organizational changes within an agency), personal challenges with mental health (one’s own illness, a friend, or family), financial freedom (primarily for those individuals who obtain a doctorate in psychology and can teach at Colleges, write prestigious books, etc.), independence (by having one’s own business or practice) among many other reasons. It is important to add that many mental health professionals are not in the field for financial gain or any other reason than to help and make necessary changes in the field. But it is also reality that some seek internal gratification by becoming a part of the field. That being said, you should question the motivation of a mental health professional and seek someone who truly wants to help.
- Everyone with a shingle/degree/certification is not always informed or helpful: It is important to research your healthcare professional before you meet with them. There are all kinds of rating sites that help you determine if you should meet with or continue to do business with a mental health professional. Some ratings can be biased, while others are very helpful. Choose your information wisely and ask around your local area. Word of mouth is sometimes useful in helping you make decisions. It is also important to keep in mind that not every professional with a certification or degree can understand your needs. Finding a competent mental health professional can take time so do your best to research, evaluate, and determine what you need.
- Most people know themselves best: Believe it or not, many of us can be our own mental health therapist by engaging in introspection (looking within). This, of course, is not always possible due to the fact that some illnesses are very severe and require professional attention. It is important to avoid self-diagnosis because sometimes it can cause more problems than you think. However, we often know ourselves well and can typically make decisions for ourselves. That being said, it is okay to be the judge of what you need sometimes. A mental health professional will assist you (when appropriate), support you, and offer treatment but they should not make decisions for you, tell you how to think or feel, or control your life.
- Arrogance, complacency, popularity, favoritism does not = professionalism: It is sad but a lot of people believe that if someone is overly confident, complacent or comfortable in the work they do (i.e.,their profession), popular, and appears to be favored by reputable people that the person must be competent, friendly, and caring. Think again. We should all aim to avoid judging people based on their status alone. My experience over the past 6-7 years has been that each therapist has a different clinical style, life goals, perspectives on life, trainings, different values and morals, etc. that influences not only their personal life but their job. If you sense the slightest amount of arrogance or notice any negative traits, move on and start researching. You deserve more than that.