Choosing A Guide For Your Healing

Amid all the chatter on- and off-line around ‘reaching out’; acknowledging that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’; ‘ask for help’ etc. etc. finding the appropriate healing guide for you is not always an easy task.

What Do You Need?

I think the first place to start is deciding the type of professional you need: Is it a coach, a counsellor, or a therapist? I differentiate between all three this way:

A coach is not so much concerned with where you’ve been as in where you are and where you’re going. They provide tools and foster skills in you, as well providing their own perspective to help you get to where you want to be.

A counsellor will help, short-term, with a specific issue. They will bring their expertise to your experience and help you find your way out.

A therapist is with you for the long haul. They are there to help you unpick, and unpack, the myriad issues presenting in your life. They will be in a position to help you address trauma, to help you make sense of your past in order to move forward. You can expect to be with your therapist for a minimum of a year, in most cases, closer to two.

In many places (Ireland included), these are not protected titles. What that means is that anyone can decide they’re a coach/counsellor/therapist, then advertise and charge as such. All these professions, however, have accrediting and / or professional bodies. These accrediting / professional perform a few gate-keeping exercises for you: They will require that their members have a certain minimum standard of education, that they are insured, that they sign up to a particular code of ethics – and they are a place where you can make a complaint against your coach/counsellor/therapist, should you need to.


Whichever professional you decide to engage with on your healing journey, you deserve to work with someone who is qualified. Don’t be afraid to ask where your potential healing guide qualified, and what professional body they are part of. This is not private, personal, information – and anyone who is qualified is generally proud of the fact, and only too happy to provide details. It also helps to build trust, which is an essential element of the relationship you’re hoping to forge with this person.

A qualification is about more than just a spot of reading and a written exercise or two; it is about being challenged, being trained, and learning about your area, and the ethics involved in practicing within that area.

An unqualified person, therefore, is a danger to you, and themselves. I came across a ‘coach’ earlier this year who had no training, qualifications, or education beyond her secondary school exams, and an MA in Creative Writing – a degree for which no previous training or education is a prerequisite. When I asked how she thought it was legitimate to call herself a ‘coach’ she said that there had a to be a first coach in the history of coaching, and if they could call themselves a coach, so could she.

I was uneasy with this – not least because all professions have evolved and standards have been in place for decades (and, in some cases, centuries). It also told me that the vulnerable, traumatised, women to whom she sold her services were paying a woman who has no expertise, and no training around to work with traumatised people, and who had no supervisor herself. She’s a danger to the women she ‘coaches’ because of this, and a danger to herself because she has set herself up as a depository for other peoples’ traumas – and no idea of what to do with that trauma afterwards.

No matter how ‘nice’, ’empathetic’, or ‘wise’ a person may appear those traits on their own are not enough to provide the safety and support you need to heal; they need to be coupled with training, understanding, and structured knowledge.

Being Comfortable.

It’s an obvious thing to say, but you really do need to be comfortable with your healing guide. The only way to find out if you’re a good fit is to interview them. Remember that you are the one with the power here – you are the potential client (customer). Recommendations – from friends, from doctors, and Google – are all common ways to start your search. Pay attention, too, to what these professionals say about themselves, their areas of expertise, interests, or experience.

I know that many have their choices restricted by their medical insurance, or geographical location. The recent emergence of a more hybrid model – both on- and off-line – of therapy makes accessing help easier for some.


Before deciding whether or not to work with someone, I recommend asking the following questions, either over the phone, or in an email:

  • What are your qualifications?
    You want someone who is qualified to do what they say they can do.
  • How long have you been practicing?
    You may not need someone who has decades of experience, but if you seeking marriage guidance, a 24 year-old is not going to know as much, or have the perspective of, a 54 year-old.
  • Have you experience working with people whose difficulty is / stems from…
    You’re looking for a resounding ‘Yes’!
  • What type of therapy/ies do you offer?
    A therapist who is non-directive might be best. Or, you might be looking for someone who can provide help with using a specific tool (eg Mindfulness). Also, if a therapist is wedded to a particular type of therapy – eg CBT – to the exclusion of all others, that might not be helpful.
  • How much is your fee?
    Clearly, this needs to be within your budget. Figure out how much you can afford before you start looking for a therapist. Ask if they have a sliding scale.
  • How often do you offer sessions?
    Every week? Fortnightly? Monthly? On an ad hoc basis? You want someone who will see you consistently – so that there is a routine and a rhythm to your sessions. To begin with, you may need to see a therapist weekly, before moving to fortnightly.
  • Do you offer support outside of sessions?
    Ideally, your healing guide will model good boundaries for you, but will facilitate contact outside of sessions should a crisis arise.
  • How long is your waiting list?
    This is a double-edged sword. Someone with a long waiting list can be a good sign; but, at the same time, if you need help now, then you can’t be expected more than a few weeks – especially if you’re in crisis.

Finally, if you start to work with someone, and find that they are not the right coach/counsellor/therapist for you, don’t be afraid to say so, and move on. No matter how much time you’ve already put into the sessions, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Be aware, though, that sometimes, we can feel like fleeing help because it’s all getting a bit too ‘real’ or ‘messy’ or ‘uncomfortable’. Ask yourself if that’s why you want to leave this particular practitioner – or if it’s a genuine misfit.

‘Don’t Use Words I Don’t Want You To’ – Irish Minister

As if running the Department of Poverty wasn’t a big enough job for Leo Varadkar, he’s decided to elect himself Minister for Mansplaining, and give himself cabinet responsibility for correct terminology as well.

Leo has decided that for every person, everywhere, who is ever pregnant, the correct word to use to describe the contents of their womb is ‘baby’.

‘Foetus’ Leo mansplains to all of us who have ever, will ever, or might ever, be pregnant, is not a word that we should use. Nor is it a word that should be used in reference to our pregnancies by mere mortals without a medical degree. ‘Foetus’, according to Dr V, is a medical word. The implication being that those of us who don’t hold medical degrees should not use medical words. We should not refer to our fingers as ‘digits’, either, he cautions. Presumably in case we lose the run of ourselves entirely, and start having a go at performing craniotomies during our lunch-breaks.

I only wish Dr V had been around 13 or 14 years ago, when I started telling my daughter that her vulva was her vulva, rather than her ‘fanny’ or her ‘front bum’ or her ‘butterfly’. I hope she doesn’t get notions above her station as a result. Idly, I wonder if Leo referred to his penis as his ‘passion pencil’ until he was a fully qualified medical doctor. Or if he’d be chagrined if he heard me talking about a migraine, and explaining to my GP that it had started occipitally? Would he chastise me, do you think, and tell me I should talk about the back of my head, instead? Except, referring to the back of my head is not as precise as referring to my occipital bone; and sometimes it is necessary and useful to be precise.

Does Leo not understand that women are allowed to refer to the contents of their wombs however they please? If a woman wants to refer to the product of conception inside her as ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘peanut’, ‘sprog’, ‘alien’ or any other word she likes (the last time I was pregnant, my daughters referred to the contents of my womb as ‘The Minion’), it is not my place to tell her that she is using the wrong word. I would respectfully suggest that Dr V adopt the same attitude.

I find his diktat that all women should refer to their foetuses as babies – and that their friends and families should, too – to be more than vaguely unsettling.  If women aren’t even allowed, by Leo, to use the language which feels most appropriate for them, at a given time, what else does he think they really shouldn’t have a choice about? Or that they should only have limited choice about?

There is an element of nuance involved in this naming business. For a lot of women, when a pregnancy is wanted, they talk about their ‘baby’ even though they know it is not, actually, a baby. Every woman who wants to be a mother, wants to have a baby; but knows that first, she will have a blastocyst, then a zygote, then an embryo, then a foetus, then – if she’s lucky – a baby. We project our hopes onto our wanted pregnancies. We imagine what we’ll have at the end. We invest in them.

Every woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, doesn’t want to have a baby. She knows that she is well within her rights – even if not well within the law in Ireland – to decide what happens to her body. She will refer to it as an embryo or a foetus when discussing it because she is using the correct terminology, whether Leo likes it or not.

Leo also mentioned asking his pregnant friend if she knew what sex her baby was going to be (thank God he used correct terminology and didn’t ask her what gender) and I’m a bit horrified by this, to be honest. It’s none of his business. If his friend wanted to tell him, he should have left it up to her to disclose, and not gone prying. Is it just me, or does this interrogation assume a level of entitlement that he doesn’t deserve?

I also find it interesting that Leo decided to speak for his friend and his sisters by telling the world that if he had used the word ‘foetus’ when referring to their pregnancies, they would have been offended. Why? Because he thinks it’s a ‘medical’ word. I find this deeply disturbing; that a man would assume a woman would take offence because he thinks their thoughts and feelings should match his own? Is this more evidence of entitlement? Or am I over-thinking this?

When I speak to friends who are pregnant, I never say ‘How’s the foetus?’ (I reserve that for when I’m gently joshing friends who are in May-December relationships). Equally, though, I never say ‘How’s the baby?’ Instead, I ask ‘How are you?’ The person I’m addressing is free to choose whether or not to interpret that as second person singular or second person plural (do you think Leo will object to my using such technical language?), and answer accordingly. I don’t decide for her what word should be used in this context. It’s not my place.

 Maybe I’m over-sensitive. Or maybe I just don’t like being mansplained at by a privileged male with an over-developed sense of entitlement.