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Old 01-17-2012, 09:31 PM   #1
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Default Choosing a Good Counselor

(Thank you to those who worked together on writing this sticky!)

So You Want to Find a Good Counselor?

All counselors are not created equal, and it might take awhile to find one that is perfect for you. Counseling is all about relationship, so it’s important to listen to your gut feelings about a counselor when deciding to continue counseling. There are a variety of different therapies, methods, and techniques used by counselors, some of which might not work for you. Before making an initial appointment, ask yourself “what do I want to get out of this? Am I prepared to take a hard look at myself and the issues that have brought me here? Am I prepared to stay in counseling until these issues are resolved, even if others in my life disagree?”

Counseling is simply help on the path toward growth and healing.

Questions to ask when interviewing a counselor
  • What is your professional affiliation? (They should have an affiliation with a major organization such as the American Counseling Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, the National Association of Social Workers, etc.)
  • How long have you been practicing? (Usually, you’ll want to see someone that has 3 or more years of experience, unless you have been in counseling before and are comfortable with a “newbie.”)
  • What is your philosophy of counseling? (They should have one. Everyone is different, but go with your gut—does what they say make sense to you? Does it appeal to you?)
  • What experience have you had working with people with my specific issue? (This is really important. You don’t want to take your child to a therapist who doesn’t work with kids, right? They should have real, practical knowledge of how to work with people in your situation.)
  • How long do you think our counseling relationship should last, generally? (This is also a clue as to their philosophy. Some talk therapies can stretch out for years. Generally, a therapist will have a good plan for working on issues after the first session, and should be able to tell you how long. Because every therapist and every client is different, most therapists will probably give you a timeline of a year or less even for difficult issues. They will alert you during a session if they feel they need more or less time.)
  • Do you take my insurance? What is the cash payment rate? Do you have a sliding scale?
  • Can we meet for an initial session?

What to expect at the first session
The first session is usually called an “intake session” because this is where the counselor will be getting background on you and the issue that you brought to work on. Sometimes this may feel intrusive, or that not enough is getting done, but this session helps the counselor develop a plan of action for the rest of your sessions together. Depending on the counselor, they might give you “homework” after this session. They should give you a consent form and a confidentiality statement during this session. They should also be able to give you a general timeline to work together (say twice a week for a month, then once a month, etc).

After this session, it’s important to go back. So many people go to a counselor once or twice and then say it hasn’t worked. Remember, you didn’t get to this point overnight, and you won’t be healed after 45 minutes. Some issues take only a couple of sessions, and some may take a year or more. It really depends on what you’re there for and what needs to happen. Trust in the process.

As sessions continue
After about three sessions, you’ll have a good idea whether you’d like to continue with this counselor. How do you feel during your time together—are they hearing what you’re saying? Do you have work to do? Are you being challenged, do you feel relieved or angry or even frustrated? Those are all very normal feelings. If you’re kind of ambivalent about going because it feels like there is no point, or not enough is being done in the sessions, please tell your counselor first before looking for someone else. Give them the opportunity to meet your needs by using their natural flexibility. They don’t always know that you’d rather have practical suggestions, or homework, or more time just to talk (whatever your need is).

Counseling is not a quick fix. If it has taken years to build up the struggles you’re having, it cannot be healed overnight. A good counselor will work with you toward growth and healing.

*A note about Christian counselors. The consensus among those of us creating this sticky is that good counselors do not have to advertise themselves as “Christian” in order to be helpful with faith-related issues. Counselors are trained to be objective and suspend their own beliefs and biases at the door of their office. They should not project those beliefs onto you, nor should they sit in judgment of you for anything you say. That is the nature of a good counselor!

A good counselor will:
Reflect back your feelings. “I hear you saying….”
Affirm your feelings. “I understand how you would feel that way…”
Challenge you. “You said this, but previously you said that. How can both be true?”
Check in with you to make sure the sessions are meeting your needs. “How is this going for you?”
Be adaptable and flexible if it isn’t working. “I’m going to try this, since that did not work as well.”
Be approachable and non-judgmental. “My personal feelings or biases are not in play during our sessions.”

Are you ready to:
set goals to figure out what you want?
take a hard look at the things that need changing?
be honest and open with yourself and your counselor?

**Within the umbrella of mental health therapists there are various professions. Psychiatrists and Psychiatric nurses are medical mental health professionals and can prescribe medication. Clinical Psychologists (Ph.Ds and Psy.Ds) cannot (yet) prescribe medication and subscribe to therapies and theories born from the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker is trained at the Master’s level in psychotherapy and social work and can have an independent clinical practice. A Licensed Professional Counselor is trained at the Master’s level in theories of psychotherapy and can have an independent clinical practice. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is trained at the Master’s level in systemic theories of family and relational therapy and psychotherapy and can have an independent clinical practice. Sometimes LCSWs are also LMFTs. Sometimes LMFTs are also LPCs. Sometimes LPCs are also LCSWs.
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