What to Look for in a Counselor
So, you’ve decided you’d like to see a counselor. Now what? Do a google search and you are faced with what seems like hundreds of counselors. Actually, there are about 400 licensed mental health counselors in Florida alone. So, how to pick one?
What most therapists won’t tell you, probably because they don’t keep up with research, is that about 40% of counseling outcome is a result of the strength of the therapist/client relationship. Yes, you have a relationship with your counselor just like you do with anyone else in your life. But this relationship is different (watch the video on the main page of my website for more details on this). Anyway, the point is: being a relationship, it’s important that you feel comfortable and trust, just like you would in any of your other relationships. The outcome of your therapy depends on it.
But, first things first. You have to find a counselor out of the hundreds. Based on my clinical experience, and what clients have reported, I have created the following list of things to look for when selecting a counselor:
- The first question is, are you using insurance? Do they offer mental health coverage? If so, you can use the following list to help you narrow down your choices from the providers your insurance carrier offers. Cautionary: please see previous blog on hazards of utilizing your insurance.
- In order to start filtering down, start with credentials. If you’re looking for relationship therapy, you are going to want a therapist trained in this modality, which is completely different than individual therapy. It differs from state to state, for example, in the state of Florida licensure for a marriage and family therapist is separate from an individual counselor. If you’re having sexual issues, look for a sex therapist, which is a licensed professional with specialized training in sexuality. Research appears to indicate that many counselors are unprepared to deal with their client’s sexual issues, even if they say that they can. So check the credentials.
- From there, see if the counselor has a picture and/or a video. Do they have a website? If so, check the biography under the “About Me” page. Not all therapists are tech savvy, so if this is important to you, you’ve just automatically filtered down your list even more. Don’t overthink it. If you can’t picture telling this person your deepest and darkest secrets then move on. If you can’t tell an inanimate picture, you probably will feel uncomfortable in person. And therapy won’t work.
- Next, look for recommendations. Most people you know probably aren’t going to tell you of the great therapist they just saw! So search online for client ratings, or see if the therapist has any testimonials posted. This should help you narrow down your search even more.
- Next, check for location. If it’s going to be difficult for you to drive over to see your counselor, you’ll be less likely to go. And that’s not good. Make sure there is ample parking, and you feel comfortable with the location, both geographically and the interior office.
- Last, check their office policies and fees to make sure they are fair to you and that you understand them. Most therapists will charge you for your appointment if you cancel within 24 hours. It’s important to understand these types of things before engaging their services.
Once you have found one:
- Do you feel comfortable talking to this person? Do they seem to understand you without judgement?
- Don’t tolerate a therapist who is perpetually late. Your time is just as valuable as theirs.
- Does the counselor do their homework? Good clinical practice standards dictate that counselors take notes on all of their sessions, and review them prior to your next visit. Is your counselor doing this, or does it seem like every time they see you it’s for the first time?
- Is there a direction, and goals to therapy or do you seem to just be aimlessly discussing the week’s events?
- Does your counselor ask to speak and consult with other professionals you are involved with, for example your psychiatrist?
- For even more tips, check out this article on the elements of good therapy.
Remember, even though your therapist is the expert, don’t be afraid to demand the best. Change therapists if you need to. It’s your right.