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How to Choose a Counselor (Therapist)

Once you’ve decided to get counseling (therapy) you are left with the sometimes difficult task of finding a counselor. While finding just any therapist is as easy as opening up the yellow pages, finding a therapist that’s well matched to your needs and wants can take a little more consideration!

Some therapists are better than other and some are better matched to your needs. Here, as follows, are some of the things you may want to consider when narrowing down the available choices, so that you can find an effective therapist that you’re comfortable with and that you can afford – and one who has expertise in helping people dealing with problems similar to yours.

Financial Considerations

You should think about financial practicalities early in your search for a good local counselor, after all, there is little sense in wasting your time evaluating the merits of professionals who charge more that you can or will pay!

Start with your insurance company or EAP and find what coverage you’re entitled to and with which organizations or counselors in your area. From this list you can begin narrowing down the available counselors to find a best fit. If you do not have insurance coverage to help offset the costs of your therapy experience, you should first decide how much you can reasonably afford to pay for therapy and then make a list from those counselors in your area that charge manageable rates.

Some organizations will charge fees based on a sliding scale related to family income, and so if paying for the counseling you need is an obstacle to treatment, you should inquire with local counselors and therapy associations about which counselors in your area can provide reduced fee services to those in financial need.

What Type of Credentials?

There are a great many different types of professionals (and even non professionals) out there offering counseling services. Some will have medical degrees, some doctorates or master’s degrees, some university degrees and additional training in counseling, and some only high school diplomas and some minimal counseling training.

While impressive academic credentials do not guarantee therapeutic excellence, they do offer a good benchmark for a likely minimum standard of abilities.

You likely want counseling from a person with a master’s degree, PhD or medical degree in counseling or a related discipline. Examples of such professionals include psychiatrists and psychologists, master’s degree level licensed counselors, master’s degree level clinical social workers and others. Research has shown that therapy provided by psychologists or master’s degree level counselors works about equally well.1

Get Recommendations

Not all therapists are created equally. Like in any profession, there are some people with greater skills than others – and since your mental or emotional health and well being is on the line here; you want to make sure you get a good one!

Although research shows that, on average, people with master’s degrees in counseling help people about equally as well as psychologists; research also shows that there can be enormous differences in the skills and results achieved between individual counselors, regardless of credentials displayed on the office wall.2

Therapists that provide effective counseling forge strong alliance based relationships with their clients. These alliances are based on warmth and empathy on the part of the counselor, as well as on an understood and shared sense of the goals and process of the therapy.3

  • You need to feel that your therapist genuinely likes and wants to help you
  • You need to believe in the process (what your therapist wants you to do to create change)

Getting recommendations from health professionals that you know and trust (or from people who have had therapy themselves) is a great way to find highly capable therapists.

Licensure – Any counselor under consideration should be licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Be very wary of anyone without appropriate licensure.

Find a Counselor Who Is Experienced Treating the Issue You Want to Deal With

No matter how credentialed a therapist, no one has true expertise in treating every type of problem. Try to find a counselor who specializes in or has worked extensively with people dealing with issues similar to those you face.

Find Someone You Feel Safe and Comfortable With

No matter how highly recommended, credentialed and experienced any given therapist may be, if you do not feel safe and comfortable when talking to him or her, you should look elsewhere. No therapist can be a perfect fit for all types of patients and since the progress you make in therapy is so dependent on the connection that you forge with your counselor – gut-feeling warnings about a prospective counselor are not to be ignored!

To-Do List for Finding a Great Counselor

7 Easy steps to finding a therapist in your area that is well matched to your needs and wants.

  1. Consider your finances and consult with your insurance plan or EAP to find out what your options are. Narrow down the list of local options accordingly.
  2. Think about what issues you’d like to work on in therapy, and try to find counselors that have expertise or sufficient experience in treating issues like yours.
  3. Ask for recommendations from people you trust – your family doctor can be a valuable source of information here.
  4. Think also about factors like location and hours of therapy, and eliminate counselors who may be prohibitively inconvenient to you. Also think about any comfort preferences you may have, such as preferring to work with a man or woman counselor, for example.
  5. Once you have used the above steps to narrow down your list to a few good fits, call each counselor to arrange a meeting (or to talk on the phone) to discuss possibly starting therapy together. Consider yourself to be interviewing this person for the very important job of treating you! This is very normal and your counselor should be well accustomed to such patient evaluations – some will even offer a free of charge trial session to help you evaluate compatibility.
  6. Prepare a few questions in advance to get more information about each counselor’s skills, experience, education, outlook and philosophy of treatment. After interviewing a few candidates, you should have a good idea about which counselor fits your needs best, and which counselor you feel most comfortable/connected with.
  7. Get started and get started feeling better!

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