Where I got the idea for a post on finding a good therapist:
Wil Wheaton is one of my heroes. He is an amazingly accessible celebrity who is (and advertises himself as) “just this guy, you know”. Last night he wrote a beautiful, self disclosing post about experiencing anxiety and how it affects his life.
The title of this post was “You are not alone in this fight”, and it was a very helpful reminder that people who experience anxiety and depression come from all walks of life, and even our heroes have struggles of their own. Even our geek heroes. I made a simple 'me too, and thank you' comment and subscribed to the comments, because as it turns out, there's a huge overlap between Wil Wheaton's fans and 'people who are interesting to me'. And I'm a geek. And a therapist. And have anxiety.
What does this have to do with finding a therapist that “gets” you?
Here it is: This morning, I opened up my email and an avalanche of new comments had come in. Several of those comments mentioned that the person's experience with seeking help for anxiety and depression was negative because the therapist didn't approve of the person's lifestyle.
What are Therapists Like?
Therapists, like other folks, have a whole lot of differences between them. Some are young, some are older, some like psychodynamic theory, others tend toward cognitive behavioral stuff. Some are deeply religious people with traditional faiths, some are atheists or agnostics or belong to alternative religions.
There are therapists who come from nearly every cultural group in the world. There are therapists who are LGBT or polyamorous, and those who are simply friendly to both of these communities. There are therapists who are comfortable helping people with the strict religious restrictions of their conservative faiths.
There are therapists who are involved in or friendly toward nearly every kink, fandom, hobby, and difference imaginable.
The point of this is this: Unless your lifestyle is one where you actively seek to harm people or yourself (and no, BDSM is not necessarily in this category), there is a therapist out there who will work with you, consider this lifestyle a source of strength for you, and treat your preferences in life as important.
How Do You Find a Good Therapist that Gets You?
When you are looking for a therapist, there are a few things you can do that might help you weed out people who aren't a good fit for you:
Use listing services and search Google for therapists who advertise as being friendly toward or knowledgeable about your lifestyle. Several organizations maintain lists online and I have included several of those at the bottom of the page. Google searches can also uncover individual therapists in your area.
Ask prospective therapists about their understanding of and support of your particular lifestyle. A good therapist will be honest with you, letting you know how comfortable or uncomfortable he or she is, and letting you know how familiar or unfamiliar they are with your lifestyle.
Sometimes, it's okay to take a chance on a therapist who says something along the lines of “I don't know much about your lifestyle, but it doesn't sound like a problem to me.” A therapist doesn't have to belong to a particular lifestyle group to be understanding of and supportive of it.
If you really like your therapist, but he or she doesn't seem to “get it” where your kink or fandom or lifestyle is concerned, spend a little time doing some research on the web for him or her and bring in some good, preferably peer supported, research to help him or her understand.
You do not have to accept a therapist who rejects a core piece of who you are.
Whether you are:
- a biker
- fundamentalist Christian
- conservative Jew
- into BDSM
- into video gaming
- into LARPing
- a member of the SCA
- into wearing diapers or dressing up like an animal …
so long as your 'extracurricular' activities take place between consenting adults and do not harm yourself or others, your lifestyle is probably a strength.
On Lifestyle and Harm in Therapy:
Harm is a special concept. Consensual physical pain and restriction is a part some kink lifestyles that can be, but isn't necessarily, very beneficial to the people involved.There are some interesting studies emerging about the potential psychological benefits of various kinks including BDSM.
However (and this is a big however), any lifestyle (mainstream or otherwise) might be harmful to you if you are repeating old patterns of trauma or abuse, remaining stuck in anxiety or depression, or otherwise limiting your chances of building happiness.
Like any lifestyle choice, your lifestyle choice probably has benefits and costs. It will be a part of your therapist's job to explore this with you. This doesn't mean he or she is “attacking” your lifestyle.
I have been respectful and supportive of lifestyles that I don't 'get' because the person in that lifestyle is happy and it works for him or her. Conversely, I have specifically advised against lifestyles that I am much more in tune with, because the person I am doing therapy with is using that lifestyle as an excuse or way to continue in self-damaging or other-damaging patterns. This is something any good therapist would do.
An Example of Lifestyle Harm and a Therapist's Response:
A non-controversial example might be: Suppose I have a therapy participant who likes to work out. Working out is healthy, right? A great source of strength. But over the course of therapy, I discover that the person is using exercise and hanging out at the gym to avoid significant issues in his or her life, and reliving pain from childhood from a parent that didn't accept anything less than perfection.
I might, rather than support this person's goal of adding another two hours a day at the gym, begin working with this person to build some balance in his or her life, to explore bringing his or her partner in for family therapy, to begin work on some childhood trauma. I might encourage the person to invite the family into some of his or her physical activities rather than using it solely to escape from family.
If this person continues to have deteriorating relationships and mental health, I might have a frank discussion about how it might be a good idea to scale back or even cut out his or her workouts for awhile and focus on relationships and dealing with trauma.
At this point, if I am not careful how I communicate, this person might feel like I'm attacking his or her lifestyle, rather than encouraging him or her to enhance his or her lifestyle by examining what is making it a problem. If I'm doing it right, however, the participant may find increased joy in both his or her "regular" life and in his or her "alternative lifestyle".
On Therapist Perspective, Respect and “Getting it”:
I have successfully and respectfully worked with people very different from myself. Even though I'm a liberal lefty from Leftghanistan (ha!), I have provided therapy to and helped people who have very different political and religious views from myself. It is not about the therapist's views of that person's life, it's about how that person's lifestyle choices are contributing to or distracting from his or her happiness.
I know many other therapists like myself, from many perspectives, who are able to work “across the aisle” and treat differences respectfully. I also know therapists who are unable to do so. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a therapy from the wide variety that is out there that will work with you, and your preferences, to help you build the life you want.
Resources to Help You Find a Therapist:
I was unable to find an omnibus page for Muslim therapists, but there are individual therapists listed on Google's search page:
It was even harder finding “Geek therapist” as the word gets twisted and geeky (of course). However, “gamer friendly therapist” turned out a few, and Michael Langlois out of Cambridge Massachusetts is reputed to be doing good work in the field.
Finally, Psychology Today is an excellent all around resource for finding a therapist, and often your local therapist will list the populations they feel comfortable working with in their listing.
If you happen to live in the Kansas City, Missouri area and are looking for a therapist, or live elsewhere in Missouri and are willing to do distance therapy, you can contact me at my practice site. I am currently accepting therapy participants and as you might have guessed, I am comfortable with the subcultures discussed in this article.