The secret to achieving mental health
I imagine that your reading this article suggests that you were intrigued by the thought of one secret being able to help you alleviate your emotional distress. The notion of one master key that can unlock our psyches is a very seductive idea, as it promises a clear, definite resolution to our problems. No wonder then that some self-help books use the word ‘secret’ in their titles, as they know that it draws us in.
Therapy research suggests a more modest - and, dare I say it, commonsensical-stance: no therapeutic approach works with all clients all of the time, and there is no magic key to alleviate your mental distress. In fact, some research has proposed the view that it is the following diverse factors that contribute to a good therapy outcome: 40% is attributed to the client’s own inner (e.g. strong will power) and outer (e.g. a good group of friends) resources; 30% to the relationship that you have with your therapist (how accepting, warm and understanding it is); and 15% to the particular methods used (the remaining 15% is related to factors like the expectancy of a cure). While there are certainly grounds for optimism - most mainstream therapies have been shown to make a tangible difference to client’s lives - it seems reasonable to be aware of the fact that your therapist does not possess one ‘magic pill’ that will inevitably change things; rather, as the above points to, a variety of factors have to come together to create the best chances of positive change.
So where does this leave you when thinking about choosing a therapist? One way of negotiating this terrain is to do some informal reading about the different therapies and see what makes the most sense to you; you can then contact a specialist in that therapy and arrange an appointment.
Another way of approaching this is to see a pluralistic therapist. Pluralistic counsellors have been trained in a number of different approaches and this can be helpful for clients in a number of ways.
Firstly, pluralistic therapists have adapted their therapeutic style to the fact that there is no one size fits all glove when it comes to therapy. Some therapies work well with some clients and are not suitable for others; also, some approaches work well with certain clients at the start of their therapy, while others become more appropriate as the process advances with that client. A pluralistic therapist adapts to this reality by taking into account your preferences, and tries to find what approach currently matches your predilections and problems.
Secondly, a pluralistic therapist does not believe that most of the positive change that occurs during therapy can always be attributed to what happens in the therapy room. They not only take seriously the idea that there is such a thing as extra-therapeutic factors (e.g. support network, personal qualities), but they also actively incorporate such factors into the therapeutic process. More specifically, they take an inventory of their clients’ cultural resources (i.e. those elements of a client’s social world that help them cope with their problems), and they help them to use them as effectively as possible to resolve their difficulties.
Finally, the vast majority of therapeutic approaches honour the fact that the relationship between therapist and client is crucial in effecting therapeutic change. Qualities of the therapist such as warmth, acceptance and empathy are common to all good counsellors. What pluralistic counsellors add to this process is an enhanced ability to collaborate with their clients: since they adhere to the idea that the process must fit with the client, rather than the other way around, they foster an atmosphere of talking every part of the process of therapy through, as they are always wanting to know what is working and what might need to be changed. Such openness creates an atmosphere of safety and a sense that nothing is being imposed on you as a client.
In general, then, when searching for a therapist, do not expect quick fixes or definite cures. Read around the subject, think about what specialist might suit you and/or book an appointment with a pluralistic therapist for a flexible, open-ended approach that takes account of your preferences.
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