Recently at the House Kheperu Gather there was a panel on Psychology and Magic. One of the questions put forth by the presenters and then discussed at the end of the presentation was
I am a member of an alternative subculture, how do I go about finding a therapist?
This is a big question for us as Spirit Workers and Occultists. Israel Regardie famously remarked that anyone considering studying occultism should first go through a course of therapy, stating that:
Over the past fifty years I have insisted that the serious magical student seek a course of therapy as a safeguard against some of the catastrophic results which appear to overtake too many of our promising students.
Similarly, when we engage in journeying, either for ourselves or a client, we are engaging matters of the human psyche directly, in a way that is not dissimilar from how certain modern therapists are using the technique. In confronting these parts of our own and clients’ psyches–and in the process of doing shadow work–we will frequently come across things that make seeing a therapist a very good idea.
With the parity between psychological and physical health conditions brought by the passing of the PPACA (the health care reform act) debated through 2009 and signed into law in early 2010, it has also served to make therapy more readily accessible to anyone with insurance. Rather than having a very low number of limited sessions, if you have insurance you can now frequently see a therapist for a copay for as long as you both agree that you need it. Pre-tax flex plans will also frequently cover your mental health expenditures.
The question becomes: How does one go about finding an effective therapist who will either work with–or at least not work against–your spiritual work.
Generating a List
One of the first steps in finding a therapist is getting a list of potential candidates who you can then narrow down to a short list and talk to.
If you are not picky about their exposure to your subculture(s) but are looking for a specific modality, you can try your own insurer’s website (if you have one that covers mental) or go to Psychology Today’s Therapist Directory is good and gives a variety of options for narrowing down the list of therapists.
After that you can check to see if your subculture has a listing of
friendly professionals. There are a few different ones for polyamory and kink, for example, and there are a variety of local-specific ones for Pagans. If you can’t find one for your specific subculture(s), then poly, pagan, or kink-aware professionals are going to be good bets since there is a fair chance if they are a good match for one they are a good match for all three and for a variety of others besides. Asking around in the local community can also be a good approach for those that are comfortable doing so.
Those who are in school can consider checking out their school’s counseling program. Good or bad, it probably exists and will provide a relatively inexpensive mechanism for getting counseling. Some areas also offer clinics that have inexpensive mental health services.
While it isn’t essential, it can also be a good idea to look for transpersonal and Jungian psychologists, since they are also likely to be capable of working within your culture, religions, etc contexts.
Trimming the List: Interviewing Your Therapist
Finding the right therapist is key to having a successful experience with psychotherapy. Horror stories abound in the Pagan community from people who have had bad experiences with therapists, especially therapists during their teenage years that their parents would choose. It is also abundantly clear that therapists can sometimes bring their own biases to the table, making it difficult to establish an effective relationship. In therapy, the strength of that relationship is key, and so if you don’t have a good working relationship with your therapist, then therapy is a lot less likely to be effective.
This doesn’t mean you have to like your therapist or that your therapist has to be the sort of person you would go out to a bar with, but it does mean that your therapist needs to be someone that you can establish a good therapeutic relationship relationship with.
So remember that when you do your initial phone screen and intake appointment that you are also interviewing the therapist. It isn’t just a matter of
does this therapist think they can work with me and also
do I think that this therapist will be a good choice for me? Even if they seem in other ways ideal in terms of their experience, if you do not feel like you can build a good therapeutic relationship with this individual you may have better luck a therapist who is maybe not quite as experienced with your particular subculture, but who you feel that you can establish a better therapeutic connection with.
Educating Your Therapist
If I am going in for anxiety–regardless of the root cause–they probably do not need to be well versed in Core Shamanic practices and I may find such counterproductive, since I have already been exploring options in that regard. Similarly, if I am going in for depression which is tied to my workplace, it is probably not necessary that they have copious experience with polyamory.
On the other hand, if I am going in because I need counseling with relationships, I may strongly prefer one who has previous experience with polyamorous individuals but may not be able to find one. Or I may find one, except that they aren’t experienced with my particular flavor of polyamory.
In these situations the problem is not usually insurmountable.
One of the first things you should do if you choose to continue with the therapist is give them a packet of information on material that is material to you. This does not mean print up your private livejournal posts for the last 5 years or provide 20 pages of your own personal mythohistory, but rather to give a summary with clear, concise, and precise information to bring the therapist up to speed on the aspects of you that are material, but which they may not be as familiar with.
For example, if you are Polyamorous and relationships are likely to come up in your therapy, then Xeromag has several excellent polyamory resources along with a secondary’s bill of rights that you might subscribe to. If you are in the BDSM scene then there is a similar one for BDSM. There are also short FAQs ones out there for Wicca and a variety of other magical/religious traditions. If all else fails, you can write your own if you feel that it is important that your therapist know about that part of your life.
Underlying all of these are two key points that I have’t stated explicitly so far:
- Find a therapist you are willing to work with early.
- Don’t give up.
For the first point: It is frequently difficult in the depths of a problem to devote the time and energy to finding a good counselor/therapist, yet that is when you need them the most. It is also not a bad idea for all occultists/spirit workers/witches/etc. to undergo therapy when their resources allow for it, for many of the forces we interact with are intimately connected to the state of our minds. So start early: Even if you lack the resources at the moment, you can proactively work to generate a shortlist and find the appropriate resources to give your therapist.
For the second: There are a lot of people who have been burned by therapists in the past, or who live in areas where finding a tolerant and qualified professional can be extremely difficult. Don’t give up due to a bad experience or because you are having difficulty finding one in your area. There are options (including some who will work long-distance), and if you need a therapist at some point–due to either life circumstances or things brought up in therapy or shadow work, even if you don’t feel like you need it now–having that name in your pocket will be well worth it.