My list of ideal trainings for mental health practitioners

Another post from my drafts folder, started sometime last year.

I’m aware that realistically, there’s a limit to how many areas mental health practitioners can specialize in. However, I still think that they can gain training and awareness in a variety of areas. Based on my own experiences, I would appreciate it if mental health professionals – in both traditional and non-traditional settings – were trained or at the very least aware of the following:

Steps to take if a client is suicidal.  The mental health provider/practitioner wouldn’t necessary need to be a specialist in this area, but they would learn precautionary measures and proper points of referral (ER, inpatient, outpatient, ongoing programs, peer support, etc). They would know the questions to ask – and the questions and statements to avoid – and generally what to pay attention to.  It might be helpful have basic suicide hotline training or something similar.

Disability knowledge and awareness. From personal experience, I know it was extremely beneficial to me that my therapist had previously worked with individuals with disabilities. It helped her identify my sensory processing issues and refer me to an occupational therapist, and it also helped us both understand my responses in specific situations. As someone with different neurological wiring, I have noticed that many therapists in the past have interpreted my symptoms and behaviors as purely psychological and that posed difficulties in my healing process. I think it’s important to get the larger picture, and it can be tricky with differences and disabilities that may not be readily apparent. Also, disability is a very broad term, and can encompass those who are limited by their mental health conditions. Knowledge of disabilities can be important so therapists can more easily refer their clients (as needed) to disability related resources and programs, vocational training, and peer support.

The greater referral network of other therapists, specialists, psychiatrists, programs, etc.  Sometimes a practitioner is not the best fit and doesn’t have what the client needs.  And maybe they simply need more in addition to the services they are currently receiving.  While some individuals may have cohesive teams of support, others may need more resources.

Peer support training. Some mental health professionals have lived experiences of mental illness, but not all do.  I think it would be helpful to have individuals with lived experience lead trainings for mental health professionals to have more of an insider’s view.  Those with lived experiences could discuss what helped them; what seemed harmful or unhelpful; and how would they like practitioners to approach them. This might help practitioners gain a more in-depth perspective and have more ideas on how to effectively work with their clients who have specific mental illnesses.

Therapeutic approaches are not one-size-fits-all; if something doesn’t work, a client may need something else. I have had therapists and coaches who have approached my struggles with their suggestions or methods as my problem rather than insights into the overall treatment plan. “This works for my other patients/clients, so why isn’t it working for you?”  Good question, let’s try something else.  A practitioner may be an expert in their field, have in-depth training on theory, case studies, and have valuable experience with wide variety of clients. However, that does not mean they are experts on individual people. What works for some people may not work for others; even something that has worked for someone in the past may not work now. I would say: Don’t blame people for lack of improvement; look for other ways to help them or refer them to someone else who might be able to help them more effectively.

Through my own experiences, I have become more empowered and learned more ways to help myself.  I also know more of what I’m looking for in a therapeutic context and have become a stronger advocate for my own mental health. I think that there could be more feedback or exchange between clients and practitioners. Practitioners can help their clients be more effective in their lives, and consumers of mental health services have valuable input that could help practitioners improve and be more effective in a professional capacity.

Based on your experiences, what do you wish mental health practitioners were more aware of?

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