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Dr. Laura Russell’s Column

Solving The Puzzle: Finding Help
by Laura Russell, PhD

Clara was upset. She’d been seeing the same therapist for three years and didn’t feel like she was getting any better.

Furthermore, she didn’t feel respected or as if her counselor believed in her ability to become healthy.

Clara suspected he had decided that she was incurable. She thought he wasn’t listening to her, and occasionally suspected her doctor of falling asleep when she was talking. She felt wrong, bewildered, and misunderstood.

She began to get angry at spending all the money. Worst of all, the therapist had begun to give her advice, insisting she follow it. She felt blamed and judged when she reported that his advice didn’t work.

Clara joined a self-help group to deal with her addictions even though her counselor recommended against it. She simply couldn’t understand his point of view on this. After she had actively participated in her self-help group for a while, she began to question the quality of the psychological services she had been receiving. Clara decided to stop going to that counselor after a conversation with some people she trusted in her group.

Finding the help you need is similar to putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. One of the most devastating aspects of mental and emotional difficulties is when people begin to feel hopeless. Whether your need is for yourself, your children, spouse, or entire family, your task is to find the therapist who can best help you. While there is excellent therapy available, there is also poor and abusive therapy. Sometimes, people simply go to the wrong therapist for their personality and needs. In these cases, the puzzle pieces never fit together.

You can get the help you need!

What happens to many people is that they develop a lot of psychological pain and begin to feel different from other people. Sometimes they have had unsuccessful counseling experiences, and even believe that mental health is something they cannot have. Most seriously, you might have lost your vision of yourself as a functioning and contented human being. Don’t give up! Continue to search for the therapist who matches your needs and personality.

One major factor in successful therapy is the relationship that develops between you and your psychotherapist. What you can expect from effective therapy continues our comparison to a puzzle with many pieces. These puzzle pieces are described below.


Your therapy is supposed to increase your coping ability in our day-to-day life.

Open Communication

Look for encouragement to learn to communicate your full range of emotions.

Listening Actively

Expect to be heard and understood.

Believe in You

Your therapist must believe you can improve to be able to help you.

Psychological Safety

You must be able reveal your true self without being criticized.

Encouraging You

Therapy offers support and encouragement for you to try new behaviors.

Sharing The Power

Seek out a therapist who respects your right to have control over what you say and do in therapy.


Therapy is only effective if you know that your boundaries will not be violated.


Make certain that you know who is deciding what help you receive and why.

There are some actions you can take to increase the success of your therapy and continue filling in the pieces of the puzzle.

  • Choose someone you like, admire, and feel comfortable with.

  • Ask your friends or relatives for the name of a therapist they trust.

  • Call and interview the therapist on the telephone.

  • Take your time to develop trust.

  • Set goals for yourself.

  • Check to see if you are meeting your goals in therapy.

  • Let your counselor know when you are not getting what you need.

  • Trust your gut instincts more than the counselor’s authority.

  • Get a second opinion if you think you need it.

  • Be open to change.

  • Terminate therapy when you are ready.

  • Ask any questions you need to ask.

You can tell a lot about the counselor by how they respond to your questions, comments, feelings and requests. A checklist of questions you may want to ask is listed below. You are entitled to ask any of these questions. If you don’t understand the answers, ask again.

  1. What is your educational background?

  2. Are you licensed?

  3. Are you board certified?

  4. What experiences have you had with my type of problem?

Therapy Approaches
  1. What is your specialty?

  2. How does it work?

  3. Are there any possible risks involved?

  4. About how long will it take?

  5. What should I do if I feel therapy isn’t working?

Support Groups
  1. Do you work with people who go to support groups?

  2. Do you refer people to support groups?

  3. How does this work with your type of therapy?

  1. How are appointments scheduled?

  2. How long are sessions?

  3. How can I reach you in an emergency?

  4. If you are not available, who is there I can talk to?

  1. What kind of record do you keep?

  2. Who gets to see your records?

  3. Do you tell people what we talk about?

  4. How do you handle information when you work with children?

  5. How do you handle information when you work with couples or families?

  1. Who decides the kind of therapy I will receive from you?

  2. How co you decide what kind of therapy to use?

  1. What is your fee?

  2. How do I need to pay?

  3. Do you bill clients?

  4. How do you handle cancellations?

  5. Do I need to pay for telephone calls or letters?

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Disclaimer:   I am not a health care professional. I am an abuse survivor. The resources on this site are for information and education only. Information on this website is meant to support not replace the advice of a licensed health care or mental health care professional. Please consult your own physician for health care advice.

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