Medical Doctor vs. Mental Health Counsellor: How Does a Trip to Each Look Like?

I thought a lot about this before choosing to write about it. Why you may ask? After speaking to many clients, I feel that this post is overdue, and it’s a sentiment I see other therapists having as well. But what is the problem after all? The issue isn’t the professional you are seeing, the problem is that the client seems to apply their experience of visiting a medical doctor with how you will treat or help them. Let me dive in.

A medical doctor’s approach to seeing you is short-lived, quick and not always thorough. They ask you a bunch of questions and then quickly assess you and prescribe you anything that need be. Therapists on the other usually speak to you over the phone or e-mail before the first session. There seems to be a lot more preparation involved just for the first counselling session. I think this is because every client has a unique story to tell and we can’t simply look for common symptoms and call it a day. Yes, as a cognitive therapist I do look for symptoms for certain mental health issues however, I complement that with the entire story of the individual. I deal with the emotions and cognitions of that person and discuss approaches to treatment. There is no pill for ‘life’. There are techniques, but no simple map that gives an overview of the simplest approach. So, when you see a therapist, know that the connections of your life are nuanced and unlike a virus, or bacterial infection, your issues are open to interpretation and trial and error. The problem thus, isn’t always clear in therapy, but it does manifest over time.

When I started private practice, a lot of people just wanted answers and to be fair, there wasn’t always answers. This may frustrate some who just want things over and done with but a person’s decades of existence does not heal within five minutes or one hour of therapy, unless of course the problem was something not related to therapy and perhaps required the quick assistance of something else. So if that is you, then remember that good things sometimes take time to manifest, but when they do, it changes the perspective quite dramatically. To give a real world example, I once worked with a client who chose to see me for six sessions however she wasn’t sure she needed all six. So I explained the process of therapy as above but she was still sceptical. No problem I thought, though I reassured her the therapy process (while seeming straightforward), may take longer than expected. She went with it. After the session, she said to me “the session is over already? It didn’t even feel like 1 hour”. So she came back for the second and all six in fact and there was a lot more to work with than we expected. She was surprised but when someone decides to keep their worries inside themselves for a long time, a lot of things can come out; years of anguish.

In other words, a trip to the doctors and counsellor is very different so when you haven’t had therapy before, it’s almost nothing like a five to ten minute talk with the doctor. It is a structured, yet malleable process that can take time to fully unfold and give clarity to both the client and therapist though it doesn’t always mean that whatever the client’s presenting with is complex, sometimes its a straightforward process that will take a few sessions to resolve and nothing more.

So there you have it. An overview of settings of two health professionals. Both have their place for patient/client treatment and both have the same aim: to help you live a better life. Until next time. For personal therapy, click the Book Now button above and work with me