Tony Soprano and Don Draper did a lot to show America that tough men also cry, but there are a still plenty of guys out there who think that taking a “mental health day” is for betas. After all, it’s nothing that puking at CrossFit can’t solve, right?
For a lot young fathers, who are supposed to put in 60-hour weeks at work and 8-hour overnights with a baby, the idea of seeking professional mental help wouldn’t be the worst idea. In the United States alone, 6 million men suffer from depression each year; it’s safe to assume many more struggle without receiving clinical diagnosis. This is why Noah Rubinstein of GoodTherapy.org helps people across the country connect with therapists who can cut to the core. “I’ve sat on both sides,” says Rubinstein. “The most important thing is that you want to feel a therapist’s confidence — that they can help you. But you also want to feel some hope and collaboration.”
He says there are a lot of misconceptions about how this therapy thing is supposed to work, and because of that, it’s hard for some people to stick with the introspection. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re probably open to the idea of giving your emotional state a checkup. So, here’s everything you need to know about getting help, evaluating the helper, and gauging whether or not it’s actually helping.
How To Find A Therapist
Most guys have done more research on what makes a great thin crust pizza than medical specialists. But, if you’re going to see a professional about the most important part of you (ok, second most important part), here’s what you should be looking for:
- Credentials: “Most people don’t know what credentials mean,” says Rubinstein. “Not everyone who hangs a shingle is qualified. Licensed psychotherapists have undergone more scrutiny. They have to do practicums under supervision and complete thousands of hours before the exam.” By this metric, your barber, barista, and guy in your office that’s always standing next to the Keurig machine are out. (Also, Check with your state licensing board to make sure your therapist hasn’t had any suspensions or revocations.)
- Do a phone consultation: “You also can’t just rely on credentials and not your gut. Have a consultation over the phone and see what you’re looking for. Do you feel confident in their answer?
- No guarantees: “A therapist should never make any promises about treatment. It’s unethical,” says Rubinstein.
- Interview a bunch of them: You can date around when it comes to mental health professionals. You only know if you like one in relationship to others. Sadly, there’s no Tinder for psychiatrists.
- Don’t rely on peer recommendations: “I’m weary of recommendations,” says Rubinstein. “Everyone is different and just because it’s good for your friend doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
- Weigh your reaction: “Having a negative reaction may not be about the therapist,” he says. “How much of it is about the professional and how much of it is you own projection? If you dislike most of the therapists you meet, maybe it’s your problem.” If that’s the case, you may want to see a therapist about that.
Misconceptions About Your Treatment
There are a lot of reasons why people are turned off to psychotherapy (and not all of them have to do with Tom Cruise). Rubenstein says that he’s heard most of them, and most can be rebutted. If you’ve had one of these doubts about getting help, you’re not alone:
- It’s a quick fix: “As a therapist you feel like a candy machine,” says Rubinstein. “People put money in and you have to deliver. They want immediate gratification. You have to explain how therapy works and how it takes time.”
- Therapists have all the answers: Dr. Phil always knows exactly what’s wrong with people. But Dr. Phil is a board certified quack. “In good psychotherapy you help someone access their own wisdom,” says Rubinstein.
- It will cost a fortune and take forever. “Sometimes it does take years,” he says. “But the way I think about it is, will there be a return on this investment? If you have a better life because of it, it definitely has a value. “
- It will confirm my worst fear: “People think in 50 minutes a therapist will determine if they’re fundamentally flawed. Most therapists have done their work and last thing they want to do is judge other people.”
- It means you’re weak or flawed. “People have this tendency to ‘suck it up’ or ‘don’t show weakness,'” says Rubinstein. ” I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s where a lot of men learn to survive. It gets passed down generation to generation. For those people, it can take a year or two to get vulnerable.”
What’s The Best Kind Of Help?
There schools of psychotherapy that practice everything from lying on a couch and talking about your feelings for your mother all the way to taking ayahuasca in a yurt. So how do you know which one to choose?
“Sadly there is no easy way for a person seeking therapy to identify the best approach. I went to grad school and still don’t know enough. But, the model matters less than the relationship. We know from research it’s the quality of the relationship that determines the outcome,” says Rubinstein.
If that sounds daunting, remember that any responsible therapist will tell you if your issues are outside their scope of treatment. After all, you wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a vasectomy. (And if you do, you should seek psychiatric help.)
The Bad Therapist Checklist
Finding right person to help is a big process, but fortunately weeding out the ones that suck is pretty easy. Essentially they will all remind you of the other therapists in Good Will Hunting:
- They can’t accept feedback: If they’re know-it-alls, argumentative, or make insights about who you are that seems off, you have the right to walk out the door.
- They’re inattentive: They can’t remember your name or what you talked about in the previous session. (They also may be playing with those clacking ball toys on their desk.)
- They lack any emotional response: Psychotherapy should be objective, but not robots.
- They’re condescending: That’s called, according to the APA handbook, being a dick.
The Good Therapist Checklist
If you find a professional that you think is right for you, see if they check all these boxes:
- The more experience the better: “Human beings are complex and personalities vary,” says Rubinstein. “It take years of experience to effectively help people.”
- Has checks and balances: “You should ask if they get consultation from senior therapists. It should be healthy supervision. A therapist shouldn’t be ashamed about going through their own therapy.”
- Provides a general roadmap: Making promises about treatment is bad, but having a destination in mind is good. “Find one who has that balance of structure, but is also trusting the process. They believe if you follow this trail it’s going to get you where you need to go.”
Is It Working?
Unlike a surgeon who knows your liver from your spleen even if you don’t (you don’t), a therapist isn’t there to cut out the bad parts of you and replace it with confidence. That’s your job. You’re the expert of yourself, and that guy sitting across from you is just the guide.
To get to that place, though, you need to make sure you’re covering these bases: Do you feel comfortable talking to your therapist? Do you feel understood? And do have a sense of what the treatment is going to look like and when it’s done? The rest requires a bit of patience. “Most people don’t get help until shit’s hitting the fan. By the time you start looking, there’s usually some anxiety around it,” says Rubinstein. Because the only shit that should be hitting the fan in your life should come from an explosive diaper change.