"Where to get free therapy?" someone messaged me recently. "Would you recommend?" The short answer is yes, but with caveats.
If you can't afford to pay and the government hospitals have super long waiting lists, you might look to a charity or non-profit group.
However, before you pick up the phone to schedule an appointment, you should ask two questions.
Must Ask Question #1 Are They Selling Or Promoting Something?
|"Deception of woman, with self-portrait" Witkiewicz, 1927|
You'll have heard of cults that focus on lost, depressed or upset people because they are vulnerable. They sell psychological services in order to engage, convert and exploit.
While those are extreme cases, there's a subtler problem that comes with some groups.
For example, suppose you're in an unhappy marriage. You look to someone to discuss this and you find an NGO (non-governmental organisation) that will talk to you for free.
So you pop along and then the conversation runs along the lines of, "How can we help you save your marriage?" because the centre is run by people who don't believe in divorce or who want to keep divorce rates down.
Or the conversation runs along the lines of, "How shall we get you that divorce?" because the group believes marriage is an institution that legalises domestic slavery of women.
Either way, that's not good.
When you seek help, you should have someone work with you to formulate goals that make you happy. Talking to someone under the guise of counselling or therapy when you're actually pushing your own beliefs is just plain wrong. (Note: I'm talking about voluntary contexts here. I'm not covering situations like court directed anger management or talking terrorists into stopping bombing people!)
A proper session should start with, "What is the issue you want help with?" and then the conversation should map out all your options, just to make sure you know what they are. Then you formulate your goal and you get help making a plan for you to reach that.
Clearly there may be times when the goal you're aiming for isn't what the other person is comfortable with. The proper thing to do in that case is for them to refer you to someone else or to ask you to find someone better suited to your needs.
So, how do you spot groups with agendas? Read their promo pamphlets to see what their ideals are. Also check their social media feeds to see what kind of comments they make. Ask your circle of friends if they have personal experiences. Put it all together and if you don't get a good vibe, try somewhere else.
Of course, if you have a particular belief system that you want to work with, you might want to look for a group that agree with you. That's entirely up to you.
Must Ask Question #2 How Professional Are They?
Sometimes all you need is a nice person who listens to you and who is sensible. There are loads of charities who offer this service and they're awesome.
Some specialise in particular issues, and over the years their volunteers become experts in their field. You can have a wonderful experience with such people and it's truly valuable.
However, therapy is more than listening. Therapy is the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means.
What does that mean? Well, it involves understanding the principles of human development and psychology as well as assessing mental health issues, and being able to apply the various treatment strategies that are known to create change effectively.
That kind of training is not something you pick up over a two day workshop or by watching a YouTube video. It's also not something you can pick up just by listening to people for many years. It requires formal training.
I've written about safe ways to find professionals in developing countries before. But when you're searching through free services, you can get a grip on what's what by asking the simple question, "What are your formal qualifications?" A pro has a suitable degree from a college or university as well as practical experience.
I don't know where you are when you're reading this. However, while there are plenty of organisations around the world that do terrific work, and there are three in Malaysia that I would particularly recommend. Check them out for yourself: All Womens Action Group Malaysia, Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) and Tenaganita.
Have a great weekend!