The wild wild west of recommending a certain type of therapy – why you should always get your info from a specialist

5 min read

I’ve noticed how in recent years information about therapy, development, and theories about how we function as humans has taken off tremendously. I find this context in which we become more aware of ourselves and our behaviors extremely helpful, and there are many reasons behind this.

On the one hand, we went through a pandemic that mechanically forced us through the lockdown to be alone, without the contexts we were used to and to reflect on ourselves, on our lives. This has been seen in the many job, life, and home changes that so many people have made in the last 2-3 years.

Then there’s the trend of normalizing mental health. If until now this was seen as something bad, something to be hidden and not talked about, in recent years we have realized that we all have mental health and it is up to us to recognize it, inform ourselves and we take more care of it.

Another reason came from research being done in the field of psychology and psychotherapy. The last years have come with a great liberalization of what we call pathology, clinical conditions, etc. There has been a lot of research for years in the area of ​​clinical psychology and psychotherapy that has led to seeing emotional disorders very differently: non-pathologized, explained with more current theories and more adapted to new neuroscience research. That brought a lot of theory and practice into the public eye, explained simply and making sense to many of us.

With liberalization came greater access to information and help.

But it also came with a lot of incomplete or false information, techniques not supported by enough research, and by specialists or advocates who feel they hold the absolute truth about how and what you should do when dealing with an emotional disorder or a negative state.

Many of us have learned in recent years that it is not okay to recommend medical treatments on the Internet – it is seen as a gesture of responsibility to recommend a doctor’s consultation instead of a specific treatment or medical intervention if you are not a specialist. Fortunately, more and more people know this and are aware of the risks of doing so.

So then why do we recommend treatments and types of psychological interventions? We seem to be lagging behind when it comes to recommending treatments or interventions for negative emotional states.

What’s the problem with these recommendations?

  1. Emotions and disorders are confused among each other. There is the theory that depression and anxiety are symptoms and not causes. That they are not diseases, but they are some labels that we put on ourselves or the system puts on us.

I think sometimes this theory can hold. In 12 years of practice, I have refrained from talking to my clients about their diagnostics more than describing what is going on in terms of psychological processes, beliefs, thoughts and emotions. Because we tend to stick to a label and it’s hard to break away from it and see the trees of the forest.

But from here to consider that the diagnoses are not true is a big and sometimes irresponsible step. Especially when it is done by non-specialists. Of course, all these names are taxonomies, other labels that are put on a series of processes and emotions and behaviors, but they are important to work in a model that makes sense and that can be followed in intervention and in research.

  1. Many recommended therapies or techniques are not scientifically validated. And some are validated in certain types of situations and contexts, and not all. Plus, there’s a difference between empirical validation – meaning we observe in practice that it works, and validation in randomized clinical trials – meaning we do a study where we apply the method to a control group and an experimental group and measure the differences in outcomes at the end.

If we read about a type of therapy or a type of intervention that it works in one context and that it has validation there, it does not mean that it has in other types of situations. Only a specialist can make this differentiation and recommend the most suitable intervention.

2. Formal training in a psychological theory does not equal the fact that that theory is also validated. If there are therapeutic pieces of training in certain theories, it does NOT mean that that theory and practice have scientific validation. And if people we admire or follow are trained in a certain type of therapy, it does not mean that that form of therapy is validated.

3. Just as a treatment works one way for one person but another for another, so therapies may work differently. Therapy is a very lively and dynamic method that is based on the interaction between the psychotherapist and the client. It can be different even if the therapist uses the same method and the clients have the same situations/problems. It’s the dynamics that make the difference.

4. Not all therapists are well-trained. As in any field, there are specialists and specialists. In addition to the different specializations, what matters a lot is the framework from which the specialist works. He can use different techniques and theories in the intervention when he works in a theoretical framework that is validated and that has sufficiently researched steps and practice behind it. 

5. Coaching is not the same as psychotherapy. When people who specialize in coaching express their opinion about emotional disorders, it is good to take that opinion with a grain of salt. A mental and emotional health specialist is trained to assess and recognize emotional disorders and can make a treatment plan based on a valid, researched, and traceable theoretical framework. A coach does not have the training to intervene adequately and effectively in the treatment of emotional disorders such as depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, etc. Of course, they can recognize when conditions and symptoms arise that they cannot treat and refer their client to another specialty.


I wholeheartedly believe that the growing interest in all things psychology and personal development related is making us a generation more aware of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. At the same time, it is time to get into the habit of getting our information from reliable sources in this area as we do in other important areas of our lives.

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