At Change, Inc. St. Louis Counseling & Psychiatry, we’ve gone of out our way to build a superior team of mental health experts. It has included licensed clinical social workers, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and most recently, psychiatrists.
One of the things you may notice about our team is that we are…how do you say it? Fresh-faced? Sprightly? Something like that. This too is a deliberate hiring strategy on my part as the founder and clinical director of Change, Inc. at-large and a 13-year veteran of the mental health industry.
Sometimes people wonder whether they can truly benefit from psychotherapy with a younger therapist. Here’s why I happily report that yes, you absolutely can.
- The research. Research consistently indicates that the single-biggest predictor of success therapeutically is not years of experience, but something called therapeutic alliance (McCoy-Lynch, 2012). Teyber & McClure (2011) define therapeutic alliance as a partnership where both therapist and client agree on shared goals, work together on tasks designed to bring a positive outcome, and establish a relationship built on trust, acceptance, and empathy. What’s more, research shows that a more experienced therapist does not automatically generate more successful results (Hersoug, Hoglend, Monsen, & Havik, 2001), even though one might think conventional wisdom suggests otherwise. Basically, there are bad therapists and there are good therapists, and some of each are older, and some of each are younger. The bottom line predictor of how successful you’ll be is whether you can bond with that therapist, and good therapists (young or older) are easy to bond with.
- The quest to grow.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “Physician, heal thyself!” This alludes to the notion that while healers and helpers are often very adept at healing and helping others, they often struggle to operationalize these abilities for themselves. This is surely true of therapists as well. But younger therapists may be more in touch with their own difficulties, shortcomings, and areas for growth as a therapist by virtue of their position as relative newcomers to the field, only having 3 or 5 or 10 years of field experience. But this awareness is key to their ability to continue to grow. In other words, it’s very difficult to grow if you already think you have it all figured out. All of the therapists at Change, Inc. regularly participate in supervision, mentoring, and case conceptualization with me and one another in an effort to continue grow in personally, professionally, and clinically.
- Industry standards, and the true nature of counseling.
Although we may scarcely be conscious of it, precious few people have any serious heartburn about going to see medical residents, or about seeing medical doctors who are freshly out of medical school, and we recognize these as industry standards. In fact, we may reason these younger physicians are more likely to be on the “cutting edge” of research and the latest techniques the medical industry has to offer. Yet, when we think about mental health needs, suddenly these same realities are often construed as a liability. It just doesn’t add up.I suspect that a good portion of this is based on a misunderstanding of the true nature of counseling. To many, counseling is supposed to somehow involve meeting with a soothsayer who looks into his or her psychological crystal ball, then pronounces what you’re doing wrong and what you’re supposed to do to fix it. If this was true, then by all means, you’d want someone who has spent years and years fine tuning their crystal ball-gazing. And trust me, they’re are a few therapists out there just dying have someone sit at their feet like this (HINT: Run!).But, perhaps to the chagrin of many therapists, we have no special powers. We’re just people who are trained to listen in a particular way and then tell you what we see. Deciding what to do next and where to go from there is up to you, and a good therapist should put you in the driver’s seat, even when you try to squirm out. Therapists come along for the ride, and are willing to weep when you weep, and rejoice when you rejoice, but they can’t do the work for you. And anyhow, your ability to trust what we say and operationalize it into your life is predicated on how well we can connect with you, not on our chronological age.
So, not only are we therapists, but we’ve been to plenty, and we know there are some really good therapists out there and some really not-so-good ones. We have no problem being honest about that. It’s just that being young or old doesn’t seem to impact that reality one way or another.
That is to say, there’s nothing wrong with seeing an older therapist if that’s what important for you in some way. We have seen a good number of them ourselves, and they’ve been quite helpful. But at Change, Inc., we’ve set out to hire folks that are professional, non-judgmental, and experts in their respective disciplines, but who are also youthful, energetic, and lively, because these qualities are absolutely contagious. We’re certain you’ll be pleased with the outcome!
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