Choosing A Counsellor
26th March, 2010
Here are some points to consider when choosing a counsellor. Taking your time to consider who you are going to work with may be worthwhile in the long run. When we are in a crisis we often feel like we do not have the time, however, having made the decision to get help often creates a sense of relief, and talking to several counsellors can provide you with some feedback that will be helpful.
The therapeutic relationship is a very unique relationship. You are potentially going to explore areas of yourself and your life that you do not feel good about which can place you in a position of vulnerability. It is important that you feel respected and safe to do this. In addition, not everyone is going to connect with a particular counsellor, we all have different styles and personalities that come into it which you may not gel with.
Research shows that the single most important factor in determining a positive outcome to counselling is the therapeutic relationship. In other words, the therapist's ability to develop a trusting, healthy relationship with their clients is more important than any techniques or theoretical approach they may be using.
Here are some points that I think are important in establishing whether the counsellor is a good fit.
1) Initial Contact.
Phone contact. Have a number of questions ready before hand. Typical questions centre around qualifications and training, approach to counselling, availability and fees as well as specific questions related to your situation. No question is a bad question. Talking to several people will enable you to get an initial feel for someone and help you screen those you are prepared to meet with. Trust your intuition. You do not have to make an appointment straight away, take a day to digest the information.
Contact in person. Once you have decided on at least two counsellors you want to meet, use this meeting to get a further sense of the person and how they work, respond to you, and whether you can learn something from them. It is normal to feel uncomfortable or nervous because, for example, you may not be use to attention focused on you, or feel afraid of how this person may respond to you. The most important thing at this point is to feel that they understand your experience, you can feel confidence in them, and they express a caring and sincere attitude.
2) Registration with a Professional Association
If someone is registered with a professional body it means they are legally accountable, have to abide by a code of ethics, and covered by liability insurance.
3) Does the cost meet reasonable standards
Counselling operates as a fee for service in most cases. Paying for counselling can bring up a number of issues for people. Our society undervalues emotional health which can affect our priorities and values. Also, a lot of people who have been victimized in their life can resent paying for counselling because they see that their emotional health is someone else's responsibility. This comes from developing an image of oneself as a victim and creates dependency on others for our health.
Determining your priorities and making a commitment to your health may mean having to examine some of these influences and values. It seems that most people will put money into short term gains, and often self destructive solutions, such as alcohol and cigarettes, or shopping to make themselves feel better.
Counsellors fees may seem high to a lot of people. What they don't realise is the costs to the therapist (i.e., office rental, phone, marketing, advertising, registration fees, ongoing training and supervision). It costs therapists a lot of time and money to do the work they do.
4) What theoretical orientation and approach do they work from?
It may be important to you to check out the approach to see if that fits with your beliefs and makes sense to you. In addition, the kinds of clients that the counsellor has experience with may also be important to you. For example, if you are Lesbian or Gay, you may want to know that your counsellor is open to your orientation, and can work with same-sex couples. Do not be afraid to ask the counsellor these questions and any others that are important to you. Having said this, again the most important thing is to trust your intuition. Someone can seem like a 'fit' with all the right things on paper, but if you don't click with them the therapeutic relationship is going to be hard to establish.
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