I must sound like some kind of demented canary. Any time I hear about a military person with a problem, I chirp: Get help! Get help! Get help!
And they do. Our military folks do go to the therapists on post and through Tricare and via Military OneSource and GiveAnHour and all those other providers available to military members and their families.
Often the therapy doesn’t take. So I hear squawking of a different variety. Therapy doesn’t work! Work! Work! Work! Wooooooork!
It does too work. I know it works. So why is it so dang hard to get good therapy?
I called Kristin Musch, the Integrated Behavioral Health Educator for TriWest. She has worked with military family counselors for 15 years.
Musch says that the key to effective therapy is really finding the right provider. You have to have chemistry with a therapist in order to make progress.
The more she talked, the more the process of finding the right therapist sounded a lot like dating on eHarmony to me. You don’t marry the first person you date. You don’t necessarily get help the first time you meet with a counselor.
“Exactly,” said Musch. “It is so difficult to navigate the systems of care for mental health for everyone, not just military. No wonder people are reluctant to do it.”
Maybe to get past that reluctance we need to think of it with the same strategies people use for online dating. Here are some steps Musch suggested:
You are waiting too long. Just like you spend way too much time worrying about what it says about you that you need eHarmony to find your One True Love, you are probably waiting too long to get a therapist. “Most people wait until the last possible second,” said Musch. “Go sooner.”
Look for someone who likes military. Some providers choose to work with the military population because of location. Or they have a preference for a military population because we are cute. Or they are developing kind of a specialty about military. To find this kind of provider, Musch says that word of mouth is the best device. “Ask who other people in your local area are seeing.”
Ask three questions. On eHarmony, if you think someone looks good, you send them a message that you want to get to know them. Then you ask three questions from a list eHarmony provides. You can do the same thing with potential therapists. Call and ask for a phone interview. This is normal in Therapy World. Tell the therapist why you think you need therapy. Then a couple of the following questions:
- Have you dealt with people like me?
- How would you go about treating me?
- How long do you think that would take?
- How do you deal with confidentiality?
- What percentage of your clients are military?
Do you feel a connection? “The most important thing the therapeutic relationship is that you have to feel comfortable,” said Musch. Just like the answers to questions on eHarmony make you more or less inclined to meet a particular candidate, you will feel the same thing about a therapist after you ask some questions. Go with your gut and make an appointment.
Consider a bad therapist a date gone wrong. If you go on a date that ain’t great on eHarmony, it is just a dud date. It doesn’t mean that you will never fall in love. If you meet with a blah therapist, consider that therapist a dud. Don’t dismiss the entire idea that you can find a counselor who will help you feel better.
Give it two or three visits. On eHarmony, if a date is worth kissing once, he or she might be worth seeing again ... .but not a third time. You are trying to get some change in your life. You need to have chemistry with the therapist. They need to be able to inspire to to believe that you can change and that your life can improve. If you go three times and you aren’t getting any forward movement, find someone new. There is a counselor out there in the world who can help you. Keep moving forward until you find that provider.