Finding a therapist can be like finding a life partner. It’s that hard.
As a social worker who’s counselled others, I’ve been on both sides of the treatment table – providing therapy to families, and searching for a family therapist myself.
But in working with many families, I’ve found many of them bring misconceptions to what therapy should be, and how it should be conducted, that have made both parties unhappy and dissatisfied with the experience.
In this article, I share personal recommendations from my experiences working with different therapists, and also how you should search for one that works for your family.
Commit to one therapist, at least for 4 sessions
I remember the time a client came in, and told me that he was going to stop after the second session.
Somehow I had made him discomforted by the questions.
That may have been your experience.
Deciding to quit after one session isn’t going to work out well. Whilst it’s true that you shouldn’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy, therapy is a different thing. Therapy is intentionally meant to make you uncomfortable. You’re going to be probed and prodded in ways that will prompt you to think, feel and act differently.
Ideally, I suggest that you should commit and try one family therapist for at least 4 sessions before you move on.
Don’t try to change your family
The family therapist you’re searching for to change your family, probably doesn’t exist. He can’t even change you. Only you can change yourself.
Expecting your therapist to suddenly give you a magical formula that will make your family fall in line, follow your instructions, and suddenly become good again, is the wrong approach. It will never work.
Why? Because you cannot change anyone, but yourself.
Coming to a family therapist, and expecting them to change things for you will definitely set you up for failure.
The only thing you can work on is yourself, and depending on yourself as the eventual catalyst for others in your family.
Don’t expect your family therapist to get others to come
No, no, no.
Your therapist probably isn’t going to call your son or husband to get them to come to therapy.
There are strict rules on this in therapy, primarily because therapy often works best with willing parties.
People must want to come, to want to change.
If your family member is not going to take responsibility for the problems, forcing them to come for family therapy sessions, will not work.
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous,
We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
In working with a family therapist, you need to admit that you’re powerless over the problems in your family, and that you need help. Why else would you be paying precious money to have someone else instruct you about life?
It’s only because things have become unmanageable, and that you need help.
So where do you find good family therapists?
There are three main factors that help.
Unless you’re rolling in oodles of cash, you should find an option that you can afford in the long run. Therapy can come up to $250 per hour, depending on where you go. The private providers in Singapore will charge that amount.
You don’t want to wait 3 months before you see a family therapist. You probably want help now.
I once called the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Singapore’s national hospital for mental health, for an appointment, and they sadly told me that I had to wait 8 weeks before I could see someone. Those family therapy slots sell out like hotcakes.
Here, whilst private providers can give you an appointment in a month, there are other cheaper options.
You may think that paying peanuts gets you monkeys. The family therapy provided by charities in Singapore, aren’t that bad. You may just get fresh graduates, straight out of counselling or social work programmes.
When I was counselling others, I know there were times when people did ask me if I had a family myself.
It’s testament to how inexperienced I looked.
The skill level of therapists would determine how well things turn out for you. Those who systematically seek to improve their skills, find themselves eventually becoming much better at treating you.
Finding them though, may not be cheap.
Whilst most family therapists practice in a group, there are some who choose to remain independent. Some offer online sessions, whilst others book a room in a shared practice, and see you in them.
One that I’ve seen for the past 7 years is Dr Val Gonzales, who was the former dean at the School of Counselling in Singapore Bible College.
Dr Val Gonzales (Online)
He’s someone who offers wisdom, and because of the length of time we’ve worked together, has been able to see my past, and how it affects my present.
He also blends teachings from Christianity. You can drop me an email if you’d like his contact.
Charities are funded by the government to provide welfare services. This means that their costs are much cheaper, compared to the private providers.
But because they are tighter on their budgets, this also means that they are unable to compete for the best talent in the market, and the quality of the therapists you get there may thus not be the best.
Counselling and Care Centre, Singapore
During my time providing family therapy, consultants came from Counselling and Care Centre to consult for the cases we had problems with.
I deeply appreciated their insights, and person-centred approach. As they run a counselling school too, this means that their therapists are often very rigorous and evidence based in their approach. It’s something I personally appreciated.
When you go to the doctor, you wouldn’t want the doctor to say,
I’m treating you this way, because I feel like it.
You would want him to say,
Statistically, this is the most effective way.
They are rigorous, authentic and genuinely caring therapists.
One of the therapists, was so caring that he personally reached out to me to ask how I was doing after hearing that I had left as a social worker.
Family Service Centres (FSC)
Think of this as your local GP for family problems. This is the government’s attempt to provide a one-stop shop for social problems.
There are two things to note.
Firstly, the professionals there aren’t usually therapists. They are more like social workers, who started taking on counselling roles. They do not (usually) have a specialist diploma or degree in counselling. If you see most therapists, counselling is a Master’s Degree level course.
But most professionals in FSCs are primarily social workers first, and therapists second.
The problem is, you can only approach them if you’re within their geographical boundary (check here to see which one serves you.) This means you can’t go picking and choosing the best therapists.
But just as a GP won’t be best-placed to treat your cancer, the FSC may not be the best place to work on your family problems.
I worked in a FSC for two years, as a social worker, providing therapy to families who came by.
Having been there for two years, the quality of family therapists in FSCs varies. A lot.
I say this not because I am the best, but because I was probably one of the worst. Without real lived experience of building a family myself, or even having a partner, I struggled to relate to the problems presented to me or to give a good solution.
Hougang Sheng Hong Family Service Centre
When I was mildly depressed in March 2016, I went to the Family Service Centre near my home. The prices there, are cheap. Prices start at $25, and you can probably even get it free if you’re unemployed, or on a low-income.
You can probably get an appointment in 2 weeks.
But I personally suggest that you go to more specialised counselling centres within charities, or ones that have a better reputation for service.
After 2 years in the sector, the better ones I’ve seen are:
- South Central FSC
- Care Corner FSC
- Ang Mo Kio FSC
AMKFSC in Ang Mo Kio
AMKFSC is one of the longest-operating family service centres, and celebrate their 45th year this year. Their great depth of experience means that they have good processes in place to ensure that you get a great service, at a good price.
They have recently set up a brand new FAM@FSC centre, specialising in marriage and family support.
You would have noticed that the ones on the list are generally large ones operating a few centres. That’s not by chance. With size brings a certain level of professionalisation they can bring to their services.
South Central FSC
The small one on that list is South Central, which is an anomaly. The smaller FSCs tend to struggle with manpower and professionalising their services, meaning that your therapist may be seated there thinking about how to get his computer to work.
This is not a joke. Because of the size of some FSCs, they may outsource their backend functions like payroll, IT, and HR, which means that beyond the chaos you’re bringing to your therapist, there’s other organisational chaos that needs handling.
Care Corner Counselling Centre in Eunos and Woodlands
Care Corner is one of the biggest social service agencies in Singapore. They have good processes, and supervision that ensures that the family therapist you see, has to think a lot before he embarks on a course of action.
It’s not by ‘feel’ or gut instinct.
Care Corner also has marriage therapists that focus on supporting your marriage. Sometimes, when you experience familial problems, the first unit of intervention might be through you and your spouse, rather than by trying to get your child into the clinic.
Whilst I’ve not personally used their services, I’ve had friends who work there tell me about how good their supervisors are. Good supervisors mean that the treatment you get is well thought through and reflected upon.
I fell into depression when I came back into Singapore. Having to wait 3 months for a therapist at IMH, I promptly sought a private practitioner.
A therapist in private practice, helped me to get my life back on track. Being fast to access, and at a relatively cheap price of $80 per session, he gave me the tools to help myself.
Winslow Clinic in Novena
Winslow Clinic is a group practice that I personally respect deeply.
They are big on group practice, and group therapy. This means that if you need a family session where your whole family comes in to thrash things out, they may be well placed to help.
The ball is in your court now
While this article may not be exhaustive in terms of the best clinics around, it provides a set of principles to find the therapy that works for you.
Don’t just think about therapy. Do it.
Only then would you find out whether it works or not.