Maureen Michaels

My thoughts on life and psychotherapy

How do you hire a good psychotherapist?

Places to look:

Obtain a list of providers from your insurance company.
Ask for a referral if you know someone in therapy.
Talk to your physician.
Search the internet.

When you have a list, check each provider’s website. Do you like what you read? Why?

Some basic guidelines:

1.) Insist on interviewing the therapist.

This can be difficult if you are in a crises but very critical. Most good therapists will offer “get to know you” interviews at no charge. I would avoid therapist who will not grant you this time. This can be difficult if you are in a crises but very critical. Think contractor: you wouldn’t hire one without getting an idea of who they are, how they do their work and what solutions they have for your project. A psychotherapist works with you on a uniquely personal level yet very few therapists will actually provide time at no charge for you to have a chance to know who they are. If they will not provide interview time, offer to pay for it or ask for 15 minutes on the phone. I will say it again…Insist on interviewing the therapist

2.) Labels, degrees and licenses give you very limited information about the quality of the therapist.

The range of training in this field is vast. Empathy, understanding and compassion are important qualities in a therapist who will work with you on a very personal level. These qualities are not guaranteed by a license or title. Titles are mostly of value in dealing with insurance companies. The range of training in this undefined field is vast. There are over 150 defined modalities and still counting. Ask the therapist to describe his/her theoretical positions. If he or she uses a term you do not understand, ask them to explain it.

3.) Look for quality first.

Location, cost, sex, age etc are less important. A poor therapist is worse than none at all.

4.) Other qualities to look for:

Warmth, open-mindedness, intelligence, non-authoritarian, kind, collaborative, skeptical and straight talking are all qualities of a good therapist.

5.) Using your insurance has pros and cons.

Having your mental health work noted in your personal health record can have negative ramifications for life insurance, disability insurance etc. Check whether your company is self-insured…many large companies are. Ask your claims administrator what information they receive. Discuss the insurance pros and cons with the therapist that you hire.

6.) Use your own judgment as you have in other areas of your life.

Recommendations will hold up over time if your experience and judgment agree.


Areas of questions for the interview:

Social, curiosity, break the ice questions:

How long have you been in this building? Do you have children? Did you grow up around here? Observe whether the therapist is open and friendly when you do this.

Professional questions:

Affiliations, training, theoretical positions. Where did they train? What was the major emphasis of their training? Have they done their own mental health work? What makes them a good therapist? Do they feel highly invested with their patients? Why or why not? Again, ask them to explain terms they use—you are a lay person in this area.

Personal questions:

You want to size up their life experience…do they have children? Are they married, divorced? How do they work on their own problems? Do they have hobbies? Any questions that help you to size them up as a person.

Position questions:

Ask about values that are important to you. A therapist’s position and attitude directly affects the kind of work they do with you. What is his or her stand on the environment? Politics? Abortion? The economy? Religion? Ask about values that are important to you. Unlike your contractor, a therapist’s position and attitude directly affects the kind of work they do with you.

Elements of happiness

Happiness is an internal state of mind.

Yes, it’s been said before but I will say it again –happiness is an internal state of mind.

It is based on how we interpret our world and our experiences. Here are what I consider to be the key components for true happiness. If you can cultivate these four things in your life, whether you are a 70 year old grandmother or a Fortune 500 CEO, you will start to feel true happiness in your life.

Everything else is the proverbial icing on the cake.

1.) The ability to take care of oneself in life

Or in other words being a “self-feeder”. This means earning enough money to take care of basic (not extravagant) needs. You can put a roof over your head, feed yourself, get where you need to go, maintain some work. We tend to think money is the key to happiness but actually studies have found that once basic needs are meant extra money does not carry a great bang for the buck—pun intended.

2.) The ability to earn love

Lack of love, on some level, is why many people end up in my office. A simple definition of love is the expectation of being given good things by those with whom we interact. This can vary from the friendly greeting of your bank teller to the passionate embrace of your lover. All are degrees of love, appreciation and human warmth. Here’s the catch: there is no such thing as unconditional love. It must be earned. Love is conditional on what we offer another person in order for them to feel lovingly toward us. Unfortunately, one’s ability to earn love can be impeded by personality issues, neurosis and anger that most people are unaware they are presenting to others.

3.) The ability to cope with life’s difficulties

The easy parts of life (which are few) are just that–easy. Where we gain happiness is how we handle the difficulties that land in our path. This is learned as a child through our family experience and by our successes and especially our failures as we age. Handling life’s difficulties with grace, open-mindedness and with our problem solving hats on is paramount to internal happiness. Faulty teaching and imperfect role models cause many people to struggle with life’s difficulties.

4.) The ability to have fun

A friend of mine defined life as getting up every day and solving a series of problems. I think this is a fair perspective. We feel happier in life when we make a conscious effort to have fun in between and while solving life’s endless procession of problems. Life is hard work (see #3). That does not mean fun should be set aside until the work is done. The work of life is never done. Therefore, a person’s ability to have fun along the way is the final component to feeling happier.


Determinism, Childhood and Parenting

I subscribe to a great, small, powerful  literary magazine called The Sun.  I read it for the short stories, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and I especially enjoy the Readers Write section.  This magazine exudes human dynamics and given that is my profession and passion I have a hard time not reading it  cover to cover as I stand at the mailbox.  It makes me think and ponder the humanity in all of us– the humanness of me.

The last but most thrilling thing I read in the August 2012 issue ( I am WAY behind in my reading) was the interview with Gabor Mate.  Little did I expect an interview about determinism, the effects of childhood and the stresses of our society on parents. The article is posted in part on The Sun website: .

Please, if you like the article, consider subscribing to The Sun! It has made it’s way over many years without a single advertisement and relies on subscriptions to stay alive.