On Theoretical Orientation: How your Psychologist sees the World and why that’s Important

Have you ever read a book, listened to a podcast, or had a conversation where you found yourself saying “yes! yes! I know, right?!”? What you’re hearing just clicks and helps you organize your thoughts in a way that makes sense. It feels good. Connecting with someone on that level makes you feel like you fit; that you’re in sync with someone else. These connections are what forms the basis of good therapy, which is why it’s important to find a psychologist that you “vibe” with, for lack of a better term.

Good Fit

As a way of an example, I’ll talk a bit about podcasts. I love podcasts. Living in rural Saskatchewan, as I do, even a trip to the grocery store requires some decent listening for the drive. The way I pick a podcast is I download a whole bunch that look sort-of interesting: a little true crime here, a little politics there; and I listen to about ten minutes of them to see if I get that “oh, intriguing…” feeling. Now, I don’t want to exclusively listen to people who think exactly like me. I like to be challenged. I want a podcast to expand my mind. But, I know right away if a host’s worldview is so different that I won’t be able to learn from them. When I come across one of those, I simply delete and move on.

This podcast diversion is my roundabout way of saying: you should pick your therapist in the same way you pick your podcasts (sort-of). You need a good fit. To paraphrase a psychologist I admire, the relationship between client and therapist is the heart and soul of change.

Rose Colored Glasses

Any psychologist will tell you that our training forces us to figure out what type of glasses we have on, in other words; how do we view the world. Our history, family, education, race, gender, all influence the lens through which we view our experiences. Professionally, you could say I view the world through a narrative lens. Simplified, narrative therapy or narrative theory brings social constructs to mind when trying to understand life experiences. Basically, narrative therapy positions the client as the expert. They’re the ones who have lived their lives, experienced their history, their family, race, gender, etc. Therefore, they hold the power to effect change in their lives, and together we work to unleash that power; to alter their story in a positive direction.

The Toolbox

Most psychologists will tell you that they don’t practice only one type of therapy. First, different types of therapy are most effective for different types of problems. Also, we don’t just encounter people with the same “lens” as we have in our practices. This brings me back to the concept of “good fit”. In order to meet our clients needs, we need to be able to adapt to what works for them. Does this mean we throw away our worldview every time we work with a client that doesn’t think the same way as we do? No, we don’t. We keep our lens, which helps to challenge our clients to look at things a little differently, and we adopt techniques that are useful for our clients to reach their goals.

What does this look like in practice? Well, perhaps I get a call from a client that is looking specifically for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. They’ve done this type of therapy before, and they liked its action-oriented, prescriptive techniques; things like thought journals, exposure, and skills training. Can a therapist with a narrative lens do this type of therapy? Certainly! Psychologists are continuously training in different therapy techniques in order to meet their clients needs, and they can do this while still practicing from a certain theoretical foundation that fits for them. This might look like using a core of CBT tools while also discussing narrative concepts, like social forces in that client’s life that are contributing to their particular problem.

It’s Okay, you won’t Hurt our Feelings

What does this all mean for you? In working with a psychologist, It’s important that early on, you check in with yourself and ask, “do I vibe with this person?”. Does what they’re saying in session feel right for you? Do you feel heard? Seen? Understood? If not, I’m not saying you should press delete, as I mentioned in the podcast analogy above (which is why I said “sort-of”). I’m saying that you should mention this to your therapist so that they have a chance to adjust.

Most therapists are super grateful for any type of feedback that they can get! Seriously, it won’t hurt our feelings (as long as your feedback isn’t, um… you really suck at this. That might sting a little). If your therapist isn’t willing to make adjustments to meet your needs, then that’s a sign that you should find someone else. And if the relationship just isn’t there and it’s not a good fit, that’s okay! You will find someone else who works in the way that works for you, and your therapist should be able to provide some help to point you in the right direction.

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