One of my professional supervisors recently referred someone to my practice for couples counseling. A day or so later, my colleague got an angry call from this same person, wanting to know why he gave him my name. Did he actually know who I was?!
Of course, my colleague said. I gave you her name because she’s a very good therapist.
I looked her up online. Have you read that newspaper column about the Church? he countered.
Well, yes, and I don’t think there was anything in that column about the Church and child sex abuse that wasn’t true, my mentor said. After some other choice words, the caller asked for a different referral.
I think that’s what we call client “self selecting.”
One of the risks of writing or speaking in public is that people may actually listen to you. Since most if not all of what I write would be considered persuasive speech, what happens as a matter of course is that some people will agree with me, and some people won’t. And in that process, some form strong opinions of me as a therapist, or former pastor, or even as a human being.
And while occasionally it brings with it positive, affirming comments, it’s the angry, bitter, divisive opinions that most often get shared with me. Before the internet, my audience was my congregation and those who received the local paper. Now, my published words are stored, copied and accessible for anyone who wants to find them online.
Being someone who likes people, ideas and happy relationships, it’s a bit painful to hear that my name is being denigrated for an opinion that is factually true and holds church leaders accountable for their power over children. Am I willing to stand up for what is true, and advocate for change in the Church, for example, even if I get personally attacked? I am. But I will also have to grow a thicker skin, because some people who might have sought me out for therapy will turn elsewhere, convinced I can’t serve them because I don’t think just like them.
Too Much Information: does my writing give potential clients too much information before they contact me? Should a psychotherapist be perceived, as we once were, as aloof, private blank slates upon whom clients projected their lives for reflection and perspective? With all my words out there, that’s not possible for me. I believe that I have been given an important opportunity to write, think and reflect on life in newsprint and online, and I’m not going to waste it.
If people who might become my clients think it’s important to vet my ideas for their own version of truth and correctness, so be it. We probably wouldn’t be happy together as client and therapist, anyway. I seek the light of God in every person I serve. If a client can’t get their focus off of me and onto themselves, we won’t get anywhere.
Best they find themselves a therapist they THINK thinks just like them. I guess that’s what being online does for me: if someone believes their counselor needs to pass a political or religious litmus test to help them, they can test drive me without ever dialing the phone. And I’ll just keep working to help those whose hearts open to include the unique writer, person and therapist I am.