Choosing a Therapist: Part 2

This is about the boring, anxiety-provoking, hard work of choosing a therapist.  It’s practical, not poetic.

I’m assuming you have choices and don’t live in an isolated rural area or have authoritarian health insurance.  If therapists are scarce where you live, ask the few you can locate if there is a sliding scale and cross your fingers. If it is your health insurance that is the problem, ask for what you want anyway. Worst they can do is say no.

For leads, try the ISSTD “Find  a Therapist” page at http://www.isst-d.org/default.asp?contentID=18 Remember that everybody listed works with dissociative people, but not everybody is familiar with ritual abuse, and some don’t even believe it exists.

Ellen Lacter (her email address is on her webpage endritualabuse.com) keeps a list, sorted by telephone area code, of therapists who work with ritual abuse survivors. There is a bit of overlap between her list and the ISSTD listings.

Make a list of who else you need to contact in order to generate a list of potential therapists. Then make the calls, even if you are scared. Remember, you are not committing yourself to anything; you are just gathering information.  Make a second list of what your questions to the therapists will be, with enough space between them to take notes.  If you are scattered, like I am, use a notebook and keep it by the phone.

Rape crisis centers and women’s centers are more tuned into trauma and sexual abuse than the general mental health system and they may even have resources for ritual abuse. It’s okay to call even if you are male. Take down all the names they give you and ask what other organizations you should call.

If you have survivor friends in therapy, ask them if you may call their therapist for referrals.  (It’s generally not a good idea to work with a close friend’s therapist. You can get into all sorts of sticky situations around confidentiality, mixed loyalty, and jealousy, but if it’s just a passing acquaintance,  it’s probably fine.)

Now you are ready to start calling therapists. Again, you are not making a commitment; you are just getting information. The conversation will start with a brief description of why you are seeking therapy. Some of your questions will get answered naturally in the course of the conversation: if not, don’t be shy about asking.

You may very well feel that therapists are supposed to ask you all the questions because they are the experts. Throw that belief right out the window! You are going to be entrusting very intimate parts of yourself with this person, and you have a right to know something about them beforehand. It’s okay to ask a therapist anything you want. They can always say, “I don’t want to answer that.” If they have trouble saying no, that’s important information about them: make a note of it.

You probably should start with the easy questions. “Do you have any openings?” “Do you take my insurance?” Where did you go to school?” “How long have you been a therapist?” and then work up to the harder ones. “Have you ever worked with multiples?” “Have you heard about ritual abuse?” “Do you believe it exists?” “Have you ever worked with an RA survivor?” “If not, are you willing to read up on the subject?” Tell everybody you are considering several people, and you will get back to them — let them know your time frame.

Once you have narrowed the possibilities down to a few people, this is the time to schedule an initial meeting to see whether the two of you click.

At some point, after you have interviewed a few or a lot of therapists, you will be ready to choose. Theoretically, it should be easy. You have your lists of important characteristics, the notes you have made after phone calls and initial meetings, and your own feelings or instincts. In practice, it isn’t always cut and dried. You may feel (or be) stuck in old patterns, feeling like a powerless little kid who should be grateful for crumbs or fearful that you are still attracted to people who will abuse you.

The discipline of making lists and notes will have given you a little distance and a little more confidence in your ability to be sensible about the process. There are other things you can do to boost your self-confidence.

One trick I often use ­is to ask myself, “What advice would I give to somebody else?” or “What would a ‘normal’ person do, think, feel?”  If you know somebody you feel is down-to earth, ask yourself what that person would do. If you can, talk it over with them. These techniques will help get you out of your head, away from past distorted thinking, and give you some distance and clarity.

And if you still can’t decide, you can always toss a coin!

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