Checklist for Choosing A Practitioner or Counselor

As a practitioner and consumer of “alternative” or “complementary” therapies, I am gratified to see their use spreading. More and more people, including physicians, are recognizing that different healing modalities have value sometimes combined with standard medical care, and sometimes on their own. However, because these kinds of treatment are so new to America, there are a lot of “snake oil salesmen” out there. A lot of harm can be done by incompetent or fraudulent practitioners. Ineffective treatments not only waste your time and money, but they can convince you that a particular kind of therapy is worthless, when it may only be the practitioner’s lack of skill, training, or talent that limited its effects.

Part of the problem is lack of regulation. Counselors, in many states, are unregulated one simply registers with the state by buying a business license. Energy workers, hypnotherapists and most bodyworkers are also unlicensed and unregulated. They may call themselves “certified” or “licensed” but the certification is given by the teacher or sponsoring organization, and so is not an indication of the quality of their training. The lack of regulation makes it easy for people to capitalize on the popularity of these therapies (and the high fees charged for some of them) by presenting themselves as professionals when they are not.

Initials after a person’s name, such as CMT (Certified Massage Therapist), usually indicate a federally-recognized license. However, many people are now putting initials after their names which are not genuine credentials. For example, I have seen “R.M.,” which meant “Reiki Master.” Reiki Master is not a legal credential. Also, I have seen people use credentials which have no relation to the health care being offered, such as “M.A.,” when the M. A. Degree was in Accounting, and the person was advertising as a counselor. The M.A. credential misled people into believing that the person had an M.A. in counseling. If you are not sure, it is wise to ask people what their credentials stand for.

Another part of the problem is that a number of the therapies have been, or still are, taught through an oral tradition. In the past, in their countries of origin, one apprenticed for a number of years to learn such healing sciences, continuing to study until one’s teacher knew one was skilled in the technique. In America, however, simplified forms of these healing methods are often taught in a series of short classes, or sometimes in just one weekend. The teacher cannot really certify a student as competent after such a short time, and there is often no follow-up evaluation.

I recommend that you use the same methods to check out your energy worker, bodyworker, counselor, hypnotherapist or other holistic practitioner as you would use to check out a car before you bought it. In fact, take more time and care your health is a lot more important. Here is a checklist to help you qualify your health care provider. It takes only a few minutes to ask the following questions:

Is the school they attended accredited?
Is there a sponsoring organization behind their training? Many trainings with very legitimate-sounding names are fronts for cults. Others are backed by religious groups and have particular religious orientations you may want to know about ahead of time. If you are unfamiliar with an organization offering treatment or training, or if something just feels wrong, or, on the other hand, seems too good to be true, you can check with the American Family Foundation (AFF) in the U.S., or Infocult in Canada, to see if it is a legitimate business or church.

If you have doubts about the practitioner or organization, you can find out if there have been any complaints in the past. You can check with the Health Department, the Attorney General’s Office or other government agency, and the Better Business Bureau.

If the training was from an individual (such as an herbal apprenticeship or Reiki training), who was their teacher? Can you call the teacher or otherwise check out their background?

Was the training lecture only or did it include hands-on study?

How long did the training last? (A weekend? Four years?) Did it include an internship, apprenticeship, or other kind of supervised practice?

If a counselor, do they observe standard therapeutic boundaries? These include no personal relationships with clients (including friendships) and strict confidentiality.

What else does the practitioner do? Is their lifestyle in agreement with their healing principles?

How long have they been in practice?

How much do they charge? Are their fees proportionate to their training and experience? Are their fees in line with what is generally charged in their field? (More expensive is not necessarily better. Many of the most talented practitioners have sliding fees or other ways to accommodate various financial situations.)

How many people have they treated who had the same needs as you do? What is their success rate?

Do they act in a professional manner? Do they return phone calls, keep appointments, and fulfill promises?

Do not be misled by fame. A practitioner may be well-known, may even have written books on the subject, and still be incompetent.

Do they proclaim a lot of specialties? For example, “Specializing in counseling for families, couples, adolescents, and individuals,” or “Counseling for grief, abuse, addiction, trauma and depression,” or “ . . . uses hypnotherapy, Jungian analysis, NLP and One-Brain techniques.” It takes years to master one healing art or science. The practitioner should have appropriate training and experience for each population and each technique they advertise.

Are they healthy or healing? Is light and joy singing in their eyes? (If their methods are not helping them, how can they help you?)

Complementary therapies can bring wonderful results. After all, some of these methods have been used successfully for decades in other countries. Some have roots thousands of years old. It would be sad to see their use in America affected by the number of unskilled practitioners. By choosing our practitioners carefully, and reporting good results to our doctors, we can make a significant contribution to the integration of these treatments into mainstream North American medicine.

© Barbara Clearbridge 1998

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