Is it necessary when choosing a medical care professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist, to work with someone who has had a similar life experience as you, or are you able to work effectively with a professional who knows nothing about your specific situation? There are arguments for both sides. On the one hand, having a therapist with similar experiences may assist in quickly establishing the client-therapist relationship; conversely, having a therapist with no knowledge of your situation can be just as effective.
For some people, it doesn’t matter whether the therapist has lived their situation or not, the only thing that is relevant is receiving effective tools from the therapist. Besides, no one has had the exact experiences as another person, this due to genetics, environment, and our upbringing, so it would be unlikely to find a therapist with specific requirements matching yours. A reason why someone would not want someone with a similar background is that they need someone to be objective and distanced. Perhaps having someone with similar experiences would hit too close to home and create distress.
Without bias or judgment, a therapist’s job is to assist the patient in finding effective coping and problem solving strategies. He or she guides the patient to finding his or her own solutions. If a therapist’s style works and the patient finds the treatment effective and useful, then whether the therapist has a similar background is irrelevant. This system works for many people, and because we don’t initially choose the therapist we work with, sometimes the first one we work with is just what we need, but not always.
Some find it useful to have a therapist with similar personal experiences. By nature, we tend to gravitate toward others with related interests, worldviews, and morals; so naturally, we might want that in a professional relationship.
Another idea to consider is trust. Individuals who have had traumatic experiences may feel more comfortable working with someone who intimately knows the situation. Those who aren’t very trusting in general, may have a need for a relationship in which they feel safe. For instance, individuals with addictions; sometimes it really helps patients to have a therapist who has had personal experience with addiction. Benefits to this include sharing of effective strategies and resources, a sense of trust that the therapist knows what they are going through, and the ability for the patient to see a recovering addict who has had successful treatment.
When working with someone with a similar background to you, what happens when the professional boundary is crossed? Does the relationship continue, does it change, or does it end? When crossing moral and ethical boundaries, this could harm the relationship, and ultimately, the client. It is the responsibility of the therapist to ensure the relationship remains professional. The Code of Ethics is a professional standard in which a therapist abides by. In simpler terms, the therapist must always have the patient’s best interest in mind. Unsettling feelings can occur when a client feels they are in a compromised situation. When that happens, a change needs to occur by discussing it with the therapist. Doing this is a great way to practice self-advocacy.
Choosing a different therapist if the relationship is not working out well is a perfectly legitimate option. Every therapist, just like anyone else, has his or her own way of communicating, their own history, and education in which to draw from, so it is likely that a patient won’t be able to work with every type of therapist.
When you work with a professional, do you prefer someone who has a similar background as you, or do you feel there are other qualities that supersede?