A Plea for Therapists' Openness and Accessibility

I know some terrific, caring therapists, and I know they do a lot of good. It's the ones who are more concerned with their power that worry me. I have no patience for therapists who retreat behind language that serves primarily to make them seem like experts and for those who act as though they work magic that ordinary people wouldn't understand.

How wonderful, then, when therapists demystify their work and make it as accessible as possible. Those who acknowledge the too often forgotten principle that listening and supporting can heal far better than fancy equipment, mysterious techniques, and psychiatric drugs do a great service. Those who are willing to listen, just listen to people who are suffering and to find ways to elucidate for patients the humanity they have in common with non-patients rather than pathologizing them and highlighting their differences from the rest of us are healers.

There is no justification for therapists who refuse to explain to patients what they believe, what approach they are using, and why. I have been shocked to hear some therapists say that they don't believe their patients could understand what the therapists do. Aside from revealing their demeaning attitude toward those they are supposed to serve, it is rarely the case that someone who comes for help is incapable of such understanding. And when we talk to people as though they are weird, less human than the rest of us, we only increase their suffering.

What we in the helping professions should focus on is anything that brings to the people what really is helpful. Experienced counselor and author Susan Carrell saw a need for couples in trouble to have access to help in an astonishingly low-cost way that is as convenient and accessible as possible. She created a website called Almost Free Therapy, to which a couple in the privacy of their home, at a time convenient for them, can go and download for $9.99 a self-help unit for dealing with a particular problem. Under titles like "Nothing I Do For My Partner Is Ever Enough," "We Never Get Away From the Kids," and "My Family Is Not Blending," Carrell offers jargon-free explanations of common causes of each problem and suggested ways that the couple can deal with it. I see more sound wisdom there than in many training guides, and it's all out there, presented in a way that conveys respect for those she wants to serve. It's a great example of therapists truly serving people without pathologizing them or bleeding them financially.

I urge other therapists to make our work an open book, so that our clients can be fully informed about what they are getting into, and I wish that more therapists would keep services accessible financially as well. And I urge those who seek therapists' services to ask for openness and accessibility of their therapists and try to find another one if they don't get what they are asking for. Will that be easy to find? No. But until those who use therapists' services demand accountability and openness, nothing will ever change. Organizations that encourage people to ask for such reasonable treatment are important. Those I have found over the years to be terrific are MindFreedom International, The Icarus Project, and The Freedom Center.

©2011 by Paula J. Caplan                  All rights reserved

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