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When the helpers need help: Finding the right therapist

Between COVID, compassion fatigue, and the holidays, veterinary professionals are besieged by stress. How do you know when it’s time to seek help managing it?

“Listen to your body,” Rebecca Rose, CVT, told NEWStat. “Feel its discomfort, its anxiety, and let your intuition guide [you] to seek help.”

Rose, owner of Catalyst Veterinary Professional Coaches, knows something about stress in the veterinary profession. A past president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA), and a former practice manager at two AAHA-accredited hospitals, Rose spends a lot of time these days teaching hospitals how to cope with stress and depression among staff.

She helped produce After a Suicide: A Guide for Veterinary Workplaces, a free guide to help support veterinary workplaces in the aftermath of an employee’s death by suicide. A joint effort by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the AVMA, NAVTA, and the VHMA, the guide is a great resource to help hospitals cope with the aftermath of a colleague’s suicide.

But Rose talked to NEWStat about what hospitals can do to keep things from getting to that tragic point: Help employees get the help they need before things bottom out. Helping staff members recognize that they need professional help is the first hurdle.

Rose said it’s important to realize that we simply don’t have all the tools in our toolbox to cope with the amount of isolation, stress, and uncertainty many people are feeling right now. “It's exhausting,” Rose said. The good news is, “professional counselors, therapists, and coaches will have the tools to support you through this difficult, tumultuous time.”

Finding a therapist

You can help your staff get the help they need by being open and transparent about how to find a therapist who’s a good fit.

Cost is often a concern. But what insurance won’t cover, community mental health centers (CMHCs) can. CMHCs offer affordable (or free) care and often charge on an income-based sliding scale. You can find centers in your area through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Even when there’s insurance coverage, it’s important to be clear on possible copays, whether there’s a network to stay within, and how many visits are covered. Some employers set up an employee assistance program (EAP), through which staff can contact counselors confidentially. EAPs often include a few free sessions.

Most insurance companies offer comprehensive lists of covered therapists, but it can still be overwhelming to know where to begin. A referral from a primary care doctor is a great starting place, as is Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist page. The website features practitioners’ bios and photos and allows users to filter therapists by location, specialty, accepted insurances, professional degrees, ability to take on new patients, and more.

Interview 5 to 10 prospects to narrow your selection. Many therapists offer a free, brief consult or will answer emails. Ask questions. Find out about availability—how soon can they work a new patient in?—as well as whether they offer evening, weekend, or other appointment times that work with a busy schedule. Don’t be shy about asking about their years in practice, their modalities, or what kind of issues they like working with—and why.

Remember, even a good therapist won’t be the right fit for everyone. Interviewing prospective practitioners can give you a feel for their personality and style, what the relationship will be like, and whether it’s possible to build rapport and trust. If there’s a weird vibe or things feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to move along to the next prospect on the list.

Different kinds of therapists

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), professionals who provide psychotherapy include psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and licensed professional clinical counselors. And between them, they’re a regular alphabet soup of different degrees and credentials. All are trained to offer psychotherapy, but their training and education differ. Here’s a breakdown of each.

Psychologists

Degrees: MA, PhD, PsyD, EdD

Training includes graduate courses in human behavior, development, personality, research, statistics, psychotherapy, assessment, and ethics. Two years for master’s degree, four to six years for a doctoral degree, and one to two years of full-time internship. In some states, they can prescribe medication if they have additional training.

Psychiatrists

Degree: MD, DO

Training includes four years of medical school followed by a three- to four-year residency in mental illness and its treatment, with a focus on medications, which they can prescribe.

Social workers

Degree: Master of Social Work (MSW), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Training includes graduate courses on human behavior, psychotherapy, and community resources. Two years of graduate training followed by two to three years of supervised clinical work.

Depending on which group they belong to, therapists typically specialize in working with certain types of people. Some have special skills working with different age groups, such as children, adolescents, and older adults. Others address specific issues, such as drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and depression. All are required to have a state-issued license to practice. And all have the ability to accept reimbursement from insurance companies.

2020 has been stressful—and 2021 promises to be, at least for many months, more of the same. Make sure you and your staff are getting the help you need so you can keep helping your patients.

Rose said the first step is admitting that there’s a problem: “Three of the most powerful words in our vocabulary [are] ‘I need help.’”

Photo credit: © PeopleImages/E+ via Getty Images

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