As Counseling Awareness Month comes to an end, I want to wrap up the series, Finding a Psychotherapist, with a discussion about specialties.  Clients do not always need to work with psychotherapists of a particular specialty.  To be completely transparent, one of the greatest predictors of successful counseling outcomes is the relationship.  If a client doesn’t feel connected with his/her/their therapist, it can be difficult to make progress.

Of course, some clients may be interested in working with psychotherapists who have specific specialties that are aligned with their counseling needs.  Specialties can vary across psychotherapists.  Some specialties are population-specific, such as children and families.  Other specialties might focus on a specific technique, such as eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for treating trauma.  You can also find diagnostic specialists, such as psychotherapists who often work with clients who have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Ideally, psychotherapists develop specialties through specific interests, their experience beyond graduate school, additional training, and sometimes research.  For example, I have three counseling specialties: integrative mental health and wellness, teen and young adult mental health, and family counseling.  These specialties weren’t created overnight.  The first grew out of my interest in holistic wellness, along with years of training and research (including my Ph.D. dissertation).  Teen and young adult mental health is becoming a specialty through 10 years of experience in college counseling and my research on identity development. Family counseling became a specialty after working with parents with mental illness and receiving additional training in Structural Family Therapy.  

I am telling you about my specialties not to brag, but rather to help you understand how specialties are developed.  I caution you because too often I come across psychotherapists who claim specialties while having little to no training or experience in their specialties.  Instead, their specialty is really only interest or a deceptive marketing tool.  A red flag to look for when considering a specialist is a psychotherapist who specializes in everything.  As a professor of graduate counseling students, I can confidently tell you that no one specializes in everything.  If a therapist advertises they practice from 10 or more types of therapy, it is likely their way of trying to convince clients they can offer more than they actually do.  As I tell my students, becoming an advanced clinician is not through cherry-picking random approaches for each client.

If you are new to counseling and interested in finding a therapist, I recommend the following: explore who is located in your area, read about their services and their experience, determine if you are interested in a specialty, and treat mental health as you would your physical health.  Additionally, after a few sessions, if you do not feel connected with your therapists or uncomfortable with your therapist, this is an indication to find a new provider.  To learn more about Dr. Spiegelhoff & Associates, visit the website.