By Lorrie R. Appleton, LCSW
I am noticing a curious trend in the mental health field. A client was referred to me by a colleague. I agreed to have a preliminary pro-bono meeting to determine if there was a fit between what the client wanted and my skill set.
“Do you do attachment?” the client asked. He had read books and articles on the theory and the information resonated with him. He went on to say, “My style is anxious avoidant and disorganized.” I took a moment to think.
My initial thought was humorous: “Sir, I am ethically and morally unable to commit to attachment with you aside from the fact I don’t even know you!”
Thankfully, my true response was a bit more professional. “I am familiar with attachment theory.”
The prospective client went on, “But are you CERTIFIED to be an Attachment Trauma Specialist?”
I shared that throughout 40 years practicing as a clinical social worker, I’ve been trained in a lot of theories and have experience in using many techniques, however, I have not earned a certification in Trauma and Attachment. I suggested we talk a bit about the issue that prompted his search for a therapist and maybe we could explore if I might be helpful. Then, we talked. He had never been in therapy and wanted to establish trust by vetting therapists who had credentials and used language with which he was familiar.
Makes sense, with one caveat: Do we want to become specialists in one or two approaches? Do we see the field and meadow or do we zoom in to see the bee flying from flower to flower? I am not intending to create an either-or response, just asking a question.
Allow me to interrupt this blog for a commercial message. I want to thank Google and other search engines for making therapist shopping quick and easy. Now, a prospective client, (a.k.a customer), can look for a clinician with one click of the button.
In turn, as a savvy therapist, I can take advantage of algorithms and scanning features by sprinkling my bio with a cornucopia of acronyms and expand my business exponentially. Just pull up your favorite word find platform and search – ACT, ISJ, RFT, CBT, SST, CPT, EMDR, ATTCH, and LMNOP. (Just kidding on the last one. Don’t look it up or you’ll have to sing the alphabet song). I can pay thousands of dollars to get certified in a wide variety of specialties and converse using many words associated with the specialty. Ponder this. Are the theories new and improved or are they re-packaged?
Before being seduced by the latest and greatest training opportunities, should we consider that we sit on the shoulders of many social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists who were inventors in their own right. Greats like Sigmund Freud, Virginia Satir, Carl Whitaker, Carl Rogers, Murray Bowen, Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley? (Apologies if I left your favorite celebrity theorist off the list).
Here’s the bottom line: We are on the front lines, helping individuals, couples, and families in emotional pain. We need all the tools we can get to help our fellow humans cope with life’s challenging problems. Suicide is robbing us of so many loved ones and our system which is plagued by a shortage of mental health services.
Read all you can! Go to trainings! Get involved in peer supervision groups. BRING IT! My plea is we come to the “clinical barn raising” with every tool we have. Allow yourself to be skeptical about mental health machines that leverage our strengths and make fortunes by using words to corral clients. Buyer beware!
As for me, I will continue to read, grow, learn, and attend trainings. And (full transparency) I may even add to my list of certifications. However in the end, I proudly own that my clinical approach is eclectic and intentional without apology.
Lorrie R. Appleton, LCSW specializes in couples, family, and individual therapy. As a child, Lorrie aspired to be a comedian. Luckily, she discovered how clinical work and humor are perfect partners to advance problem solving and healing. Lorrie’s post-graduate experiences span over 40 years. Lorrie has practiced in a variety of settings including private practice, non-profit, inpatient psychiatric, military behavioral health, schools, corporations, and human service agencies. You can reach Lorrie at email@example.com