On Choosing A Therapist

When Help Is Needed: Choosing A Therapist

 Fr. Bogdan Djurjulov
OCA Church of The Mother of God
Mays Landing, New Jersey

Relationships are powerful for many reasons. From them we can derive strength, confidence and security. Relationships can be agents of healing and can come from family, friends, your pastor or a professionally trained counselor.

St. Paul, in his relationship to God clearly expresses a deep sense of confidence and security by saying “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). We know that God is always with us and often we converse with Him in the privacy of our own hearts. We know, too, that God is among us in His identification with others; that God works through other people and healing is a corporate experience and involves, me, others and God. It’s not something I have to tackle alone. Perhaps there have been times when you have thought or said what St. Paul has said “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). It is usually at times like these that our prayer life gets more active and the answer comes to us – talk to someone. There are times in our lives when we need someone who can be really objective with us. Asking for help is not always easy. Sometimes we need outside counsel to help us see what we can’t see alone.
It’s no secret that even Christians at times need a little more help than a good friend-to-friend talk can provide. For whatever reason an outside objective view may be necessary to help us sort things out. Perhaps you’ve considered a therapist or counselor to help you sort things out – maybe it was suggested to you by your doctor, family, friend or pastor. Any variety of things can trigger the need to seek help. Seeking help does not make us weak. On the contrary, admitting we need help is a big step towards finding resolution to the situation. We may not like the reality we see, but paradoxically it won’t change without moving in the direction of confronting it. The power to change is in the acceptance of the reality – like it or not; it’s there. It’s like needing to fix a flat tire before you can move on. If not fixed, it makes other things worse too.
Choosing a therapist can be a confusing ordeal. There are many kinds of psychotherapists and counselors to choose from. There are psychiatrists who are medically trained doctors with special training in psychiatry, and psychologists who usually have a Ph.D. in psychology. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, psychologists can’t. There are social workers who hold the Master of Social Work degree (MSW) as well as social workers who are certified and are designated as CSW’s and those who belong to the Academy of Certified Social Workers, the ACSW’s. You will also find many therapists who specialize and address certain types of issues like marriage, family, addictions, sex, adolescent issues, hypnosis, neurolinguistic programming, etc. Often these counselors will hold at least (but not always) a master’s degree in their respective fields and frequently have a doctorate. Each of these people often have special certification in their field of expertise. An alcoholism counselor may have the title of Certified Alcoholism Counselor or C.A.C. These certifications speak to a counselor’s competence as well as having been examined by a regulating body of professionals. Of particular interest here is the Pastoral Counseling field. Pastoral counseling is a form of counseling, but with a specific focus as the title implies. Like the others, it is done in a one to one relationship or in group form and is a ministry that assists pastors and their families in working through problems in relationship to self, others and to God. It has a theological focus which sets it apart from traditional secular psychotherapy.
The average therapy session lasts anywhere from forty-five to fifty minutes and the fees can range from $25 to even $120 and more per session. Psychiatrists generally charge the most. Many clinics and private practice charges are covered by insurance companies (ask to be sure). Most county mental health agencies, pastoral counseling centers and some therapists offer a sliding fee scale for counseling based on earnings and ability to pay. Some centers use intern trainees who are clinically supervised to lead counseling sessions, but are not fully credentialed or licensed yet.
Certainly the Yellow Pages has a long list of them (and not to be discounted), but the best recommendations come from people you know; a friend, your pastor or doctor. The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion (OCAMPR) for example can be a good source for a referral. Metropolitan Theodosius has himself endorsee this organization. Persons in this organization are interested in the connection between the above disciplines. For information on OCAMPR in your area write to OCAMPR, P.O. Box 958, Cambridge, MA 02238. Your local mental health agency may be able to help or refer you to a clinic or therapist in private practice. Pastoral counseling centers can also help direct and counsel you. For specific concerns related to alcoholism and drug abuse, your local affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence can help. Call 1-800-NCA-CALL (1-800-622-2255).
Source: OCA Parish Ministry Resources, § Family Life, Volume II – 1992