When You’re Seeing More Than One Therapist At A Time
It’s a fact of counselling life that counselling clients sometimes have more than one therapist at a time. Although I encounter this much less commonly than folks who are working exclusively with one therapist, I have at times been asked if seeing more than one therapist is a problem.
What motivates counselling clients to be working with more than one therapist? This is an interesting, and perhaps even perplexing question, given that therapy is expensive.There can be a number of reasons for this, including but not limited to the following:
Different Therapists For Different Types of Counselling
It’s actually quite common for folks to have one therapist for individual counselling and a separate therapist for couples or family counselling. This is advantageous for a number of reasons:
- Conflicts of interests are circumvented.
- The counsellor avoids assuming the dual relationship of both individual and couples/family counsellor.
- Both partners are equally advantaged as the couples/family therapist is there for the couple or family.
- Helps avoid counsellor bias or perceptions by one member of the couple or family member that that the other member, or members are being favoured.
- Information shared in a one on one session isn’t accidentally leaked into a couples or family session, particularly if the therapist forgot that this information was shared individually, not in couples or family counselling.
It’s also relatively common for an individual counselling to choose group counselling to supplement their individual counselling experience. This may even be an essential part of therapy as we would see in therapy models such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.
- Scenarios where a client is working on one specific issue with one therapist and one with another, such as when a client feels well-helped by one counsellor with a specific issue but helped more by another counsellor for a different issue.
- Sometimes a client is seeking out a specific therapy to add to their existing therapy, that their original counsellor is not trained in. Sometime the client’s counsellor might also make that suggestion or provide a referral.
Coordination/Unity of Care
In certain mental health delivery models, this may be used to ensure that the client is receiving consistent care. The client may have a primary therapist along with a backup therapist(s) if the primary therapist is not available. This model has often been used historically in many community mental health clinics.
The Historical Effect
Sometimes counselling clients have a deep reluctance to let go of working with a therapist that they know and trust and decide to keep contact with this therapist while simultaneously working with someone new. There can be a number of reasons for this including comfort, the feeling (and value) of being well understood by another human and continuing with long-term therapy.
Brief vs. Longer Therapy
Related to the above point, sometimes folks are seeking to maintain a longer-term therapy connection while working short term with someone new, often on a very specific issue. And sometimes this happens without planning, such as when urgent or emergency counselling is sought (for example, crisis intervention).
Perhaps your work requires you to travel frequently or you have more than one place you live…and if you stay a while, it may be preferred to have a therapist in each location(s). Sometimes folks even find themselves in an emotional crisis during a holiday and seek out counselling support.
The FOMO Effect
Fear of missing out, or the sense that the grass is always greener…is there an even better therapist for me out there? This is a state of mind that can also extend in other domains such as persistently searching for a better job/career, romantic relationship, home situation, friendships, etc.
You may think that I’m all ‘rah, rah, rah’ about seeing more the one therapist as the above all sounds pretty logical, right?
However, there can be some risks too, such as:
Harm To You
Harm to your wellbeing, situation or mental health is probably the biggest risk and it often happens inadvertently. For example:
- The counsellors do not realize that there is another counsellor(s) involved and engage in goal and therapy planning under the assumption that this is the only counselling you are receiving. Goals, planning or therapy pacing could be very different if all counsellors know that you are also receiving therapy elsewhere.
- The separate counsellors think very differently or see your situation differently and suggest different pathways.
- Related to the above, one therapist unknowingly undermines the other’s work with you as they don’t know another counsellor is involved.
- If one therapist has a deep knowledge of your history and you are also working with someone new, the new therapist may lead you in a direction that they probably wouldn’t if they had the knowledge of your history.
Counselling clients are left feeling confused if their separate counsellors have divergent therapy methods. Because counsellors are as different as the clients they serve, this can leave clients wondering who to get onside with and who is “right”.
You may go one way in therapy with a counsellor and a different direction with your other counsellor. But are you really getting anywhere and is this the most efficient approach?
Sometimes something has happened in your therapy and you just don’t wanna deal. You’re afraid to bring it up with your counsellor so you try with someone else. This might work out but sometimes the same thing happens again (and again) with each new therapist. You might leave thinking that therapy is not for you, which could be the case, or you may be missing an opportunity to resolve it with one therapist to a level of satisfaction that it stops being an issue in future therapy.
I’ve talked about this already, but the need to experience the best of everything is engrained in Western culture. I have been guilty myself of over-reteaching things online. Having more than one therapist on the go doesn’t always answer the question of whether we are truly satisfied with each successive counsellor as FOMO often originates from a deeper place of emotional discontent.
It can be expensive to have more than one therapist on the go, especially if your therapies are taking you in different directions and you are starting to feel lost.
- Recognize that you are entitled to see whatever therapist you choose.
- Realize that sometimes separate therapists is a good thing! Individual + group therapy; individual + couples therapy can be excellent, even sometimes preferred, combinations!
- Do your homework when researching a therapist: take advantage of free consultations and use my New Therapist Checklist to help keep information and impressions organized.
- Ask friends, family members and trusted health professionals for a referral to a therapist they trust and have had good experiences with.
- It you would like to work with more than one therapist, be clear about your reasons.
- Ensure that if working with more than one therapist that each counsellor knows of one another’s existence; in some cases you may even want to sign a release allowing them to talk with one another or together with you in order to map out a coordinated counselling strategy.
- Bring up any concerns you have with your therapists and talk it through to see if you can reach a better result.
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