Ask Adam: Finding a Trusted Therapist and More (Part I)

Answering all of your pressing therapy questions in the comfort of your own home.

For Dr. Adam Brown, the path towards receiving a doctorate at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and becoming a consultant, professor, and licensed clinical social worker was anything but straight. 

When Adam graduated from Colby College with a degree in English, his goal was to become a professional working actor. With this in mind, Adam moved to New York City, Boston, and finally to Los Angeles in order to chase his dream. Shortly after arriving in LA, he also began performing stand-up comedy and eventually working as a comic. Approaching 30 years old, Adam began to reevaluate what he was striving for, imagining his future working in the industry. To Adam, it boiled down to becoming famous and acquiring the privileges of those with whom he rubbed shoulders. Thinking about it further, having known members of the rich and famous personally, Adam did not see them as any happier than he was. Adam realized that even if he did achieve the fame he was looking for, it would only make him more unhappy if he didn’t feel fulfilled internally. 

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Adam soon packed up and moved back in with his mother in Rhode Island, taking a job from his uncle who owned a construction company. In taking this job, Adam had access to health benefits which he used to pay for psychotherapy, hoping it would help him in figure out his next steps in life. To Adam’s surprise, the therapist recommended that he come more than once a week, his visits turning into regular occurrences 3 to 4 times a week. Adam cites his experience in therapy as being such a transformative time that it helped him to realize a lot about his priorities, perspective, and values. More than that, Adam saw himself as being interested in doing the work of his therapist. 

Adam felt compelled to go back to school, attending Smith College School for Social Work to get his Masters of Social Work (MSW), which has an outstanding reputation for training psychotherapists. After Smith SSW, Adam worked at a foster care agency, which had an opening for a clinician to work with kids as a psychotherapist. Through this experience, Adam worked with many children and adolescents that committed sexual offenses. Adam became troubled by the way in which the system treated the youth, as perpetrators more than victims, and found that he wanted to become part of the solution to the systematic problems that he saw.                                                   

With that in mind, Adam went to get his doctorate at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Now, Adam is a professor of clinical social work at the Silberman School for Social Work Hunter College. He is a sexual abuse prevention researcher who focuses his research on youth and young adults who have committed acts of sexual harm. Adam also has clients that he sees regularly for general therapy. 

It is safe to say that Adam is the expert when it comes to social work, which is why I have enlisted him to answer some therapy questions on the blog. So, let’s jump right into it. 

How do you know that you need or should see a therapist?

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Everyone in some way could benefit from seeing a therapist, but some specifics include individuals that could need help getting some perspective, are stuck in a job or a relationship, it could be anything. Going to therapy is not going to solve your problem, but it will shorten the process- maybe even shave off some years if not months. It is all about getting you somewhere where you are already headed in terms of problem solving. A therapist does not give advice, they really help you ask yourself the good questions to enable self-discovery. 

What are things you look for in a good therapist? What makes a therapist a good one? 

Even though it’s hard, it is really important to take at least two to three sessions to decide how you feel about your therapist. A good therapist will encourage you to do that and shouldn’t make you feel that you are pressured into seeing them. Therapy is such a personal journey, if you are uncomfortable after the first session, it may be that the therapist is pushing you to confront the tough questions. It might be a good test to say to your therapist on your next visit “I almost didn’t come back because… XYZ reason” and see how your therapist reacts to this statement. If you feel ashamed, sad, uncomfortable, or don’t want to tell the truth to your therapist, that is a different story. Then, you should consider looking for another therapist. 

It is a therapist’s job to provide a “holding environment” for you, where even if life is uncomfortable you feel like you are in a safe place. 

What is the average duration of a relationship with a therapist?

It really depends on the presenting issues and on your readiness. If you come to a therapist with a very specific and identifiable issue or goal to address things might take a shorter time, like three months. It is more common for therapy to last a year or longer. Sometimes, many years. There is really no definitive way of knowing when you start. 

What is the best way to prepare for a therapy session?

To not prepare. You really need to go in and be ready to be yourself in a therapy session. When you first arrive, your therapist is going to say things like “how can I help you” or “what brings you here”, don’t over think what it is you are supposed to be doing there. If you have a specific goal in mind then that’s always great, but there is no need to “prep” necessarily. 

What are some resources you recommend for people that are looking to seek help?

If you have a very specific issue, a good place to start can, surprisingly, be Google. You can use your zip code to find support groups and specialists in your area of need oftentimes. Most of the therapists I know have a page on www.psychologytoday.com. I don’t have a page there now because I only work on a referral basis, but if I were going to accept more clients, I would. Another place to find a therapist is to ask a friend that has been in therapy. In some cases, your friend’s therapist could talk to you about what’s going on and act as a referral. 

If you are not ready for in person therapy, there is online texting therapy. 7cups.com, betterhelp.com, and talkspace.com are good ways for people to dip their toe in. You can pay one month at a time and see how it goes. 

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For resources, Brene Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us” could also be a great resource. She talks about many things related to mental and behavioral health that most folks can relate to. Additionally, these are books I always recommend to those I work with:

“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book provides really wonderful models for having difficult conversations and how to engage with people that are typically hard to engage.

“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, and Roger Fisher is also an incredible resource.


Stay tuned for next week when Adam answers more pressing questions on therapy, life, and navigating our world’s current challenges. 

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