A Client Decides to Seek Therapy
by Mara McWilliams
First published in The Bright Side Professional Center, July 2003
My name is Mara McWilliams and I am bipolar. I was diagnosed with anorexia at 17 and then Manic Depression in 1989, I was 19. Ever since I was diagnosed, I have sought mental health counsel to improve my understanding of my illness, my impulses, and through therapeutic guidance, I have learned how to effectively deal with my illness.
Reaching out for help when you are emotionally suffering, feeling suicidal, or extremely depressed is a very difficult thing to achieve. As a mental health consumer and as a once distraught HUMAN BEING, I can tell you that there often seems to be too many hurdles to overcome just to get IN to see a therapist. In the area where I live, there is a 3-5 week waiting period at most therapist offices.
So, what can you as mental health provider do to help me find and get treatment and in turn, gain my trust and business?
The first thing I would suggest is launching a comprehensive website that would answer any initial questions I may have about your practice. A well designed, easy to navigate, comprehensive website would be an invaluable tool for both the mental health consumer and professional. When using a website as a marketing tool, the practitioner should remember that there are absolute essentials that should be included in every mental health provider's website. Using their website, the therapist can allow the patient to access to their areas of specialty, hourly rates, insurances accepted, the availability of sliding scale fees for lower income clients, and the availability of evening and Saturday appointments. I would also like to know if the mental health professional is gay/lesbian friendly and open to be dealing with women's issues. Does the practitioner run any group therapy sessions? If so, please provide dates, times, topics covered and cost to participants.
A recorded introduction using the practitioner's voice on the site, would allow potential clients to discern if I initially feel comfortable with the therapist's voice. Although it may not seem to be important, the feeling's a doctor's voice invokes in a client is often key in when a client decides whether or not they want to work with a particular doctor. If the doctor offers a free 45 minute evaluation/interview they should state that information on the website. Offering a free evaluation/interview session would, again, allow the client to spend 45 minutes with the psychiatrist in their working environment.
When I first walk into the office to meet with my potential mental health provider, I will be looking at the office set-up, interior decorating, conveniently placed Kleenex boxes and most importantly, a feeling of compassion and empathy MUST be present if you want me to choose you as my doctor. It is essential for the practitioner to remember that during the initial intake, no matter how much the potential client wants or needs medical assistance, if they don't feel safe and comfortable in your office and with your demeanor, they will quickly cross you off their list and move on to the next doctor with the soonest available appointment.
When I am initially surfing websites for a qualified mental health professional, if I come across two or three doctors with similar qualifications, I would be more inclined to work with a doctor who volunteers some of his/her time and expertise to community causes. If one doctor provides a sliding scale fee payment plan, I would choose that doctor over one who doesn't. In my eyes, if a doctor offers such a payment option, they at least appear, to be giving back to the community and also have an awareness that not all people can afford to pay the going rate for mental health help. A doctor with that awareness and empathy will surely place them in a category above doctors who do not have this awareness.
THE most important feeling that MUST be conveyed during the initial interview/evaluation is that of safety, closely followed by empathy and open-mindedness. If these feelings can be expressed on the practitioner's website, the more likely I would be to contact them.
I believe it is extremely important for mental health professionals to realize that when an individual comes to the conclusion that they need mental health support, it can be overwhelmingly emotional. Finding information that is useful can be confusing and the search can add even more stress to a person who is already feeling somewhat bewildered and lost.
If a mental health professional wants to catch my attention, realize that I am in search of information. Finding out as much information as I can about you, your practice, education, and location as possible is important to me. Show me that you empathize with my search by providing some assistance for me along the way, regardless of whether I pick you as my practitioner or not.
It's my goal to help the mental health professionals realize that they are in the perfect position to publicly educate our society about mental illness, via their website, and regardless of whether or not a potential client chooses to work with you, you could be helping countless saddened masses get their hands on information that could be lifesaving. Take the time to show the world that achieving and maintaining mental health is NOT dependant upon an income that can support the high cost of participating in therapy. Self-knowledge is key in recovery, this is a fact that most of us can easily agree upon. Help us achieve self-knowledge through providing supportive therapy options and an informative website.
Providing potential clients with good information about various mental illnesses as well as the most conventional forms of treatment now being used would be an invaluable tool for me, as a client to have. This type of information being readily available on a doctor's site would sway me to be more inclined to chose to interview them over interviewing a doctor who didn't take the time to try to educate his audience by using his/her website.