Choosing Your Mental Health Professional
As I sit in the specialist doctor’s office with my mother waiting for her to be seen, I glance around and wonder how many of the clients researched and sought out this professional? Did a friend or family physician refer them, or did they end up here in a panic after a medical emergency?
I pondered this deeply, which had me thinking about the mental health professionals in our lives, if we have any, and how we chose them. We often wait until we have a crisis before we reach out to a professional – a pain that’s no longer tolerable, not knowing how to move on from a break up – or our basement floods. Don’t get me wrong, reaching out for help in an emergency is an enormous step, especially in the world of mental health.
In a crisis, we often grab the first available appointment with the first available professional. This is not always a constructive approach for such a sensitive, vulnerable situation. The fit may not necessarily be there and, in some cases, a mental health professional requires a strong connection. That’s not always easy to find and yet is an essential piece in successfully treating issues.
Taking this even further, as a culture of first responders, we tend to neglect those physical and mental signs and symptoms that show we need support. We write it off to the effects of shift work, a bad call or not being able to call in sick because the platoon is short. When we connect with a professional in any kind in crisis, they don’t know what our “normal” is, which makes it difficult to get a baseline as a goal they can support us in reaching. Mental health professionals will have no idea how you perceive the world when you are not in crisis.
If you haven’t already, do some shopping while life is somewhat in balance or not quite in crisis, if that is an option. The best way to start this process is to talk to people you trust. That platoon mate who told you about his family, for example, or the call-taker who said they were having a rough go lately. Ask them if they are seeing or can recommend someone. If this option is not viable for you, using a search engine to pull up various professionals such as psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers is another way to explore and shop! Most will have a biography and describe modalities used and their specialties.
We have options, such as our employee assistance program (EAP), that do not cost us anything, however we are not limited to this. The work we do and our exposure to various experiences means we often require more sessions and expertise than the EAP can provide. Most police agencies have benefits that cover up to a certain dollar amount of psychological support from a psychologist or other registered mental health professional. EAPs vary in who they accept as professionals for reimbursement so be sure to research this before committing.
Many mental health professionals allow for a “meet and greet” to see if there is a fit for both client and professional. They should cover their modalities (methods of approach in support), expectations of your commitment to the journey such as homework, number and frequency of sessions and the cost.
See if the office space feels good and whether you connect and feel inspired to be successful. For me as a client, I need someone who uses the solution focused approach, which entails forms of positive thinking and goal orientated task sessions in its most basic form. Another modality may depress me more than it might help, which is why it’s important to discuss the approach in basic terms so you can understand how your sessions will look.
Remembering that we have options and are not limited, even when in crisis. Treat choosing a mental health professional as you would any other significant partner in your life. An effective professional will want that for you and never take it personally if you decide they’re not the right fit at any point in the process!
Even more importantly, do your shopping while your lives are good. A clear mind is an open mind and very powerful!
Taking mental health to an operational level also makes it more digestible for seasoned officers. We talk about “Below 100” (see below100.org), an effort to permanently eliminate preventable line of duty deaths and injuries through innovative training and awareness. (The 100 refers to the program’s goal of reducing line of duty deaths to below 100, a number not seen since 1943. The average over the past 10 years, according to the program, is about 150).
Adding mental health into our operational training may not only support this goal but ensure fewer names are added to our wall of fallen officers in Ottawa. What a gift it would be to pay our respects to officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty without having to add more names.
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