Review: The Essential Companion to Talking Therapy by Karin Blak

I was so excited when I saw this book on Net Galley and immediately requested a copy. There is so much misinformation out there about therapy, finding a therapist, what to expect from therapy and so forth. Indeed, I’ve often wanted to write just this book. Unfortunately, this is not the book I wanted to read, and that I think is needed. Some of this may have to do with the fact that Blak is from the UK, and it’s possible that things are just done vastly different there than here in the US. So if you’re from the UK, you might find more value in this book, but in the US you will find some inaccuracies.

For example, Blak says that any good therapist should have regular supervision and that you should ask about it to make sure. Apparently that continues to be a requirement for licensed therapists in the UK, but here in the US this is not so. In the US, most states have a requirement for supervision throughout the training period to become a therapist, but not once you are licensed. Now, I DO agree that every good therapist should have peer support and a supervisory type therapist that they could consult with; and I personally think every therapist should have their own therapy. But these are not requirements here.

There are also some weird little quirky pieces of advice, like a therapist should not shake your hand at the first session, and they shouldn’t offer you a warm drink. I think it’s fine to say “some therapists may not shake your hand or offer you a drink” in the service of warning clients that these common cultural practices might not exist in the therapy world. But I have often shaken my clients hands when first meeting them, and I have a tea cart in my waiting room as many therapists do. I believe these to be personal decisions that therapists make based on their theoretical leanings and personalities – but I certainly do not believe that these are boundary violations and you should steer clear of therapists that do this. And I think that it’s a disservice to advise people to avoid these therapists. She also says that therapists will have you make a list of your support circle and advise you to have conversations with them. Again, this may be something your therapist does, based on your issues and the therapist’s style, but Blak presents this is an expectation you should have from any therapist you see, and that’s just not true.

In addition to these things (which I think are just purely wrong), she says some other things that I just personally disagree with. She says that therapists have a “shelf life” of about 15 years. I disagree. Some therapists may burnout after a number of years, but I feel this is due to a gap in training, and we need more education on how to achieve longevity. I also know some very good therapists who have been in the field for many, many years and show no signs of wear and tear. And she makes some pretty firm claims about things that I disagree with – for example, at one point she says: “Depression is frequently the cause of suppressed anger”. Okay, she does say “frequently” and not “always”, but still. There are so many potential causes of suppressed anger – abuse, trauma, self-hate – to name just a few. I just do not think that therapists should make these kinds of blanket statements, especially in a book geared towards people who know nothing about psychotherapy and could easily take this as gospel truth.

For those who may be still interested in reading this book, here is a list of topics covered: Debunking myths about therapy; supervision; choosing a type of therapy and therapist; diagnoses; first session tips; the therapeutic relationship; how to spot unethical therapy; challenges in therapy; how therapy might affect us and our relationships; and ending therapy.

Again, I wish with all my heart I was giving this book a 5 star review. We do need a book like this that a layperson could read to give them a look at what they can expect. But this book is just not it.

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