Spiritually minded people who seek psychological help are often attracted to alternative therapies and spiritual counselling. They may turn to friends or therapists who share a spiritual perspective. Many therapists have trained in various therapies and at institutes which are not main-stream or government regulated. Does that matter?
My clients, my friends, and my personal experience have shown me that alternative therapies can be effective. But when a therapist is working outside of the mainstream, how can you trust them to behave professionally when working with you?
Therapy is most effective when we reveal our vulnerabilities to our therapist. This can kindle a level of intimacy that could be exploited. I am not talking about sexual indiscretions, which violate the expectations our society has of any mental health or medical provider. There are also other risks.
When therapists become enmeshed in their clients’ lives, when they project their own unresolved issues onto their clients, when they overshare their personal traumas, they cease being effective as therapists. These actions can cause damage to a client, whether the therapist is mainstream or alternative.
Therapists are only human so there is always a risk that they will over-identify with certain clients. For this reason, mainstream mental health providers, such as psychologists, receive specialized training in professional ethics. Critically, this involves setting clear boundaries. For example, psychologists are taught to be aware of over-identifying with a client, or specific issues, with which they resonate. The psychologist is then ethically obliged to refer any such client to another psychologist.
Not all alternative therapists are so thoroughly trained. Some, especially those identifying as empaths, may not be aware of the need to create strong boundaries. They may immerse themselves closely into their clients’ lives – much to the detriment of their clients.
So, it is important to recognise if your therapist is overstepping a professional boundary. Listen to your intuitive voice. Are you feeling uncomfortable or confused with what the therapist is saying or doing? If so, speak up. Let them know how you are feeling and listen to their response. A good therapist will listen, acknowledge your concerns, and ask what you need. When they are not in rapport with you, they are likely to be defensive or ignore what you said.
You may feel uneasy speaking up. Many clients feel intimidated by their therapist. Afterall, the therapist is the expert, and the client is the one seeking help. You need to remember you have the right to express your feelings, to ask questions and be heard. You will not heal if you feel on-guard. It is your therapist’s job to make sure you feel safe in their company. Competent therapists will respond positively, being pleased you have honestly shared your thoughts and feelings.
Some therapists can be pushy, which is not usually in clients’ interest. Pushing the client to do what the therapist has decided is right can backfire. Clients need to be ready to take on changes. Too much at once can be unsettling for those who are already tense or troubled.
Being told what to do is not usually effective either. Any unwanted behaviour is embedded in our emotional ecology. Guiding clients to discover the belief, needs and circumstances underpinning such behaviour is the most powerful form of therapy. It allows them to find alternative ways of fulling their underlying needs. This way they replace negative behaviours with positive behaviours, and this will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Achieving a positive outcome is not possible if the therapist is using the therapeutic relationship to serve his or her emotional needs.
I undertook many years of university study and professional development. Over my thirty years as a registered psychologist and member of professional organisations, I was made very aware of the ethics and dangers of overstepping boundaries. A few times, I learned the hard way, being reproached for getting it wrong. I also spent decades unravelling my own issues, so I could serve my clients to the best of my ability. Now I look back with gratitude for all my study, work, mistakes, personal therapy, and self-reflection.
I have learned that the best healers are those who meet certain criteria:
They need to be in rapport with their clients and judiciously aware of the importance of ethics and professional boundaries.
They will have worked hard on resolving their own issues and continue to do so.
They self-reflect and grow, treating any mistake or emotional disturbance as an opportunity to apologise and learn.
Decades of scientific research has never found any therapy more effective than any other. However, researchers have consistently found that the only factor improving outcomes for mental health is the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist. That’s why finding a therapist you can trust is so important.
As well as doing sessions myself, I guide and mentor several emerging healers. They are earning their qualifications in hypnosis and counselling, well-aware of their responsibilities, and actively working through their own issues before they feel ready to step out to help others.