Personal Psychotherapy

therapy1My graduate program requires all students to have our own psychotherapy while we are in school. I don’t know how to find a good therapist or what to talk about in therapy since I’m not in a crisis.

It is good practice for programs to require personal psychotherapy as part of clinical training. It will give you an experience of being in the client role that will inform your practice as a therapist. It will also be a source of support as you go through the emotional growth and challenges that are part of the clinical training process.

The question of how to find a good therapist is an important one, involving issues of therapeutic approach and style as well as practicalities. I recommend starting with the question of therapeutic approach and style since finding a match on those dimensions is essential to finding a therapist who will be useful to you. You can begin your search by asking friends or fellow students for recommendations, using the mental health benefit provided by your health insurance, and doing a search on the websites of local professional organizations. In addition, your graduate program may have a directory of recommended therapists, often alumni of the program, and you can also ask faculty for recommendations.

If you haven’t been in therapy before, it may be helpful to meet with more than one therapist before committing to work with someone for a number of months. Some people develop a list of questions about information that will guide their decision, although each initial session will have a unique flow, rhythm and outcome. At this point, you will begin to sort through the practical aspects of choosing a therapist. For most graduate students, time and money are in short supply. Keep in mind that the financial and scheduling arrangements for therapy should be sustainable for at least the period of time required by your graduate program, and possibly longer. Many licensed therapists are willing to work with graduate students at a reduced fee especially if you are able to come during day time hours that are in lower demand.

The question of what to talk about with a therapist is also an important one. The short answer to that question is that you can talk about anything that is on your mind. You may want to talk about your personal life and the changes that have been caused by your entry into a clinical graduate program; your academic courses and the personal reflections stimulated by your course work; or your clinical training and the emotional challenges of working with clients who are in distress. Most students find that clinical training is emotionally disruptive in bringing issues to the surface that you have worked on in the past or that are new and unfamiliar to you.

It is useful to enter therapy before beginning your fieldwork or practicum placement, since it is unexpectedly overwhelming to begin seeing clients. You and your therapist will have a chance to identify some of the patterns that are present in your relationships, your familiar coping strategies, and the signs and triggers of stress. This will enable you to use therapy as a source of support when you face the intense emotions that come up for new clinicians.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful in entering therapy as a graduate student. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.