How to Choose a Counsellor
Unfortunately, when we are in the grip of crisis, we really don't feel like shopping around, we just want to get rid of the problem. But taking the time to find a good match with a counsellor can save you time, money, and disappointment.
Often the best way to find a counsellor is through the word of mouth recommendation of people you trust; a close friend, a physician, or a pastor/rabbi/minister.
Counsellors can be found on professional listings and web directories such as www.counsellingbc.com, or directly from professional associations, which provide free referrals over the phone and via their web sites. Also many employee extended health plans include counselling services.
Contracting for a specific number of sessions is not typical and you are under no obligation to pre-pay for individual therapy. However, many group therapy programs follow a specific course and set number of sessions and are usually paid for in advance. Counselling services are not bartered for and you should not be made to feel pressured to book another appointment.
Finding A Match
Counselling is a highly personal experience and it is important that you find a counsellor that you feel comfortable working with. A relationship with a professional counsellor is one built on trust and trust is built over time as we gain knowledge and experience of another person.
Many counsellors offer free consultations as a way for people to get to know them. This provides you with an opportunity to ask questions, and meet in person to get a "sense & feel," or your "gut reaction," to the counsellor, and to gain enough information about their services to make an informed decision.
So how do you know when you have found a match? Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star, suggests that there are two key questions that can help to determine if you have found a match with a competent counsellor:
- Do I feel that this person truly hears and sees me?
- Is there any part of me that wants to go back for more sessions?
A match with a competent counsellor will provide you with a deep sense that what you are saying is important, and that your thoughts and feelings are valuable. Counselling is challenging in many ways and is not easy or entirely comfortable. In other words you may find that part of you is a little anxious or ambivalent. However your relationship with your counsellor should be one that draws you back, that is encouraging and affirming so that in spite of being ambivalent about doing the work of change, part of you finds help, encouragement, connection, and care: part of you wants to return. Keep looking until you get that inner gut sense that you are being understood and validated. Above all else trust yourself! Beck suggests that if you answer no to either or her two questions, move on, don't waste your time, after all you're paying the bill!
An Effective & Competent Counsellor Will:
- Believe you.
- Share information about the process of counselling and change.
- Fully respect your feelings, beliefs, and values.
- Acknowledge gender, culture, and religious differences.
- Encourage you to do things that you feel are helpful in your healing journey.
- Encourage you to build relational support outside of counselling by connecting with supportive and respectful people and groups.
- Offer you new skills to help you move towards your goals.
- Invite your feedback regarding the ways in which counselling isn’t helpful.
- Make it easy for you to discuss any concerns you have about counselling.
- Not force or pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do.
- Assist you in deciding when counselling is over.
Having some questions in mind will help you to get to know the professional you are seeking services from. These questions can be asked over the phone, however, most professional counsellors will not discuss your problems at length, or provide assessments or suggested therapeutic plans, over the phone. Here are some questions to consider:
- What is your training?
- Do you belong to a professional association?
- Have you worked with other individuals facing similar concerns, problems, or goals?
- What style, techniques, or approaches do you use? Can you explain them to me in a way that I can understand, (i.e. without a lot of "psycho babble")?
- How long have you been in practice?
- What are your beliefs about the use of medication?
- Do you keep clinical records and can I see them at any time?
- Can I bring a support person, or family members, with me to my appointments?
- What knowledge or experience do you have about my culture?
- What are your fees, and how and when do I pay?