This article was published on April 4th, 2016
Visiting a personal counsellor or therapist is a normal for most gay men. For some it is an essential part of getting through life, and for others, it can be an important step in helping to get past a temporary road block. Not all therapists and counsellors are created equal. Each will have their own set of skills, personalities, and qualifications that they offer. Finding someone who is the right fit for you can be difficult.
Unfortunately, many clients will not completely open up to their therapist or counsellor. Some people have the perception that they cannot be open and honest with their details, especially when it surrounds their sex life, sexual fantasies, or other deeper personal issues. If you cannot talk about your problems with these trusted care providers, the you will never be able to work through the important issues.
Looking for counselling can be very confusing. The average person may not know the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a counsellor. There’s also a difference between a therapist and a counsellor; most counsellors can be thought as a therapist, but in some places only persons with a license can be called a therapist. Identifying and understanding what type of counselling help you are looking for is the first step.
A psychiatrist has Medical degree. They usually have less training in talking with clients. Often their main focus is diagnosis and treating with medication. Generally having a psychiatrist means having a mental health diagnosis and being treated with medication and less about talking out the problems.
A clinical psychologist has training psychological assessment and counselling. Only a psychologist is licenced to give many of the psychological tests. They do IQ testing, personality testing and other types of testing.
A counsellor is a more general term to describe a person providing talk therapy, some places there is no control of this term and anyone can call themselves a counsellor. Other places the government decides who can call themselves a counsellor.
A clinical social worker is someone trained to do counselling with clients. Usually this is a term that is defined by law but it may not be everywhere.
When looking for a new counsellor or therapist, inquire if they are licenced by a governing body. Some counsellor can join an organizations and given a license, but there are no government regulations behind it (much like buying a PhD online). Licensing isn’t the most important aspect in making a decision on a counsellor; however, it could play a role in your considerations. In British Columbia, for instance, the Registered Clinical Counsellors has a code of ethics and requires its members to have training and liability insurance; however, there is no government legislation in place governing this association, unlike other professional fields including doctors, psychologists, dentists, lawyers, etc. It is this kind of confusing qualification and licensing that can be hard for the average person to understand. Just because someone is licensed does not mean that they are a good counsellor or therapist; similar to how there are licensed medical doctors who are better than others, or who you would prefer to have as your primary care physician.
When you do visit a counsellor and only give him or her a select part of your life and problems, the counsellor will likely not be helpful in helping your find a complete resolution. If you feel you are not able to completely and freely talk about all parts of your life, you are likely not seeing the right counsellor.
The relationship between yourself and your counsellor is extremely important. You need to be able to trust your counsellor, and respect their abilities. If you cannot, then you should look for another professional counsellor.
Does your counsellor challenge your thinking your feelings?
Are you made to feel uncomfortable at times because your counsellor is talking about truths that are uncomfortable? Too often counsellors act like a paid friend making things comfortable for you but not helping you grow and change.
Gay men typically do not want to educate or train their counsellor about gay life. They find it frustrating. If your counsellor does not understand gay culture, they will have a hetero-normative view of how you should behave. Your counsellor needs to understand what being a gay man is like, have an understanding of the culture, and the issues presented.
Not all gay men want a gay male counsellor because they do not want to be distracted by the possibility of being attracted to their counsellor, meeting in a social setting, or risk running into each other at the local bathhouse. Other reasons include not being able to talk comfortably about intimate sexual details. Fortunately, there are female counsellors who have a good knowledge of gay culture and they can be extremely helpful.
As with all professionals, the counsellors interests are not always 100% with their clients. Counsellors have needs too, including the need to bring home a pay cheque. It is possible that this can impact and put a strain on the counselling relationship. Some counsellors will keep a client coming back each week, for extended periods of time; whereas, a session every other week or less frequently can be just as helpful.
Generally, most counsellors will work with you really closely for six months to a year. When counselling extends on for longer periods, it should be a signal to find a new counsellor who can offer new techniques and approaches to your problems.
Understand, not all counsellors can and should be trusted. Some counsellors may come with biases and prejudices that aren’t suitable for your life or lifestyle. Meet and evaluate the counsellor for yourself. Not all counsellors are a fit for all clients.
Here are ten questions should ask yourself while selecting a counsellor:
- Can I trust this person to be honest with me?
- Can I trust this person to be confidential about my information?
- Can I open up to my counsellor?
- Does my counsellor have my interests as the most important part of our relationship?
- Is my counsellor sensitive and caring?
- Does my counsellor have extensive experience working with gay men?
- Can your counsellor be open about their own prejudices?
- Is your counsellor more interested in being liked than being helpful?
- Can your counsellor take risks to say things to you that may be wrong or inaccurate, or is your counsellor safe in what they say to you?
- Does your counsellor let you tell your story, and not talk about themselves extensively?