Therapist vs. Listener: Which One Should I Use?

Therapist vs. Listener
Photo Credit: Flickr - Ky/CC BY 2.0

When it comes to maintaining or restoring, even starting to have mental health, it’s a smart move to consult board-certified therapists rather than amateurs. College degrees in counseling are one thing to assure the public of therapeutic skill, and certifying agencies another. One proves academic success, the other competency. There’s more to consider when it comes to choosing a therapist, as indicated below.

Mental health practitioners with licenses (given by individual US states, with the exception of Oregon) can be monitored for efficacy (good results), and punished for ethical infractions such as verbal or physical abuse, poor advice-giving and other problems. Mental health practitioners who fail to maintain industry standards can lose their licenses. Relevant information about that can be learned with persistent questions to specific state licensing agencies (look up necessary contact information in your phone books or online).

Ethical societies such as the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Institute of Mental Health and the International Society for Mental Health grant membership to therapists who fit their good practice guidelines. Therapists who earned a place in such societies usually post the certification in their offices.

The difference between board-certified, licensed mental health practitioners and non-board-certified, non-licensed practitioners might surprise newbies to the mental health world. Board certification is a distinct sign of competency. The lack of certification might indicate the lack of demonstrated – or any – competency in a particular industry. The American Board of Professional Psychology offers a brief explanation about the issues. The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, CCPA offers a distinct certification, Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC), which is separate from the regular professional membership. Anyone claiming to be a US or Canadian mental health professional who lacks certification from those or similar organizations is someone who is probably not being tracked by peers interested in protecting the public from charlatans. Buyer beware.

Though some unlicensed practitioners are simply good at what they do, that’s not guaranteed. The life coaching industry, for example, is not regulated by professional organizations that oversee good practices. Coaching is simply a matter of learning some technique for helping people, advertising yourself as a life coach, and meeting or failing the needs of clients. The reason that people might seek out a life coach rather than a therapist is because coaching bypasses time-consuming searches into a client’s past and the effort to “fix” the client. Life coaching focuses on identifying specific problems and utilizing tools for meeting specific goals with imminent resolution(s). That’s quite a difference in the amount of time and expense involved, let alone the speed of resolution to given problems.

The option of communicating with someone willing to listen to you is one way to overcome problems. Trusted friends and neighbors can be good for that. But when it comes to online or face-to-face listeners whom you cannot credit with earned reputations for helpful input, risks are involved. The listeners lack assuring backgrounds to be checked and verified. Any poseur can present themselves as a listener willing to exchange ideas with you, but if they lack good sense or an education in psychological realities, they present a risk that distressed people simply can’t afford to further complicate their unhappy lives.

Give considerable thought to whether or not you need to interact with a certified therapist rather than a non-degreed individual.