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Shopping around - It's OK to be picky when choosing a counsellor

With so many different counselling styles and techniques on offer, it's easy to become a little baffled by the options available. So here is a quick guide to choosing the right counsellor for you.

Window shopping

If you were shopping for an outfit for a certain occasion, you may begin the process with some casual window shopping, just to get a sense of what is out there. Finding a counsellor is similar, so a good way to start would be to find a counselling listing site like Counselling Directory or the BACP therapist directory. Look for a profile that stands out to you, in the same way as you may glance in a shop window for inspiration.
 
You may notice a profile photo that stands out, or perhaps you are looking for a certain style of counselling. Maybe you are more interested in getting a feel for the way they describe their work in their profile. You may not be at a stage where you are ready to commit just yet and would prefer to build a list of the options available. 

Browsing

After some time spent window shopping, you may feel ready to enter a store and start perusing the rails. When outfit shopping, you might be looking for a certain colour or style that feels safe or familiar, or you may prefer to look for something that feels different or challenging. 
 
Some people are drawn to counsellors who look warm and reassuring, while others search for something more specific. You may be wanting to reflect on the past or perhaps there are behaviours or a relationship that you are looking to understand or change. Alternatively, a more solution-focused approach might better suit your needs.
 
Different styles of therapy can offer different things. Take time to explore the options available, in the same way that you might throw different outfit options into your basket. Many of the popular directories have the option to click ‘save’ on the counsellors that you wish to shortlist.

Things to consider

  • your budget
  • your availability
  • how reading a profile makes you feel
  • relevant experience and specialisms

Remember that one size doesn’t fit all. You know yourself better than anyone else.

Just as skinny jeans aren’t for everyone, please don’t feel that it is necessary to stay open-minded and try every counsellor on for size. It’s OK to have some non-negotiables. You may be looking for a counsellor with certain qualifications or of a certain age or gender. Feeling comfortable is key and you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. 

Illustration of puzzle pieces

Trying someone on for size

Once you have a few different options in your basket, it’s time for a trip to the changing room. Walking into a mirrored room can feel daunting, and you may like to involve someone you trust for a second opinion. 
 
At this stage in your search for a counsellor, you may have chosen a few that you think could be a good fit. Talk about the counsellors you have shortlisted with someone, read their profiles, look at their websites or blogs and see if you can get a sense of who they are and how they work.

When you have chosen a few you like, give them a call or send an email. This stage can feel a little daunting, but you aren’t committing to anything, you are just looking to find someone you can connect with. 
 
Many counsellors will offer a free introductory telephone consultation. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and ask the counsellor how they may be able to help you. A counsellor will often talk to you about their counselling style. This shouldn’t feel like a hard sell. Any counsellor worth their salt will be happy to talk to you about the way they work and what they feel they can offer you, without pressuring you to book a session. 
 
Ask any questions you have and don’t be afraid to tell them exactly what you are looking for. Sometimes you might not even know exactly what that is and it’s OK to tell them that too!

It’s a bit like trying on clothes. Some things look awesome on the hanger but just don’t feel right when you try them on. Sometimes you can speak to someone and really not gel with them but, with others, you can feel instantly comfortable. 

Illustration of a group therapy session

Cooling-off period

When you are finally happy with the choice you have made and, after a telephone consultation or initial session, you feel you have found the counsellor for you, you can begin to build that all-important relationship in your initial sessions together. Whichever way your counsellor works, research has proved time and time again that it is the therapeutic relationship that underpins positive outcomes in therapy. 
 
As you work together, hopefully, you will feel increasingly comfortable to share parts of yourself and your life with that counsellor. However, as with any important purchase where you make a significant investment, there should always be a cooling-off period.

So, if you are not feeling happy or comfortable with the way things are going, I’d recommend you bring those doubts and feelings into a counselling session and share them with your counsellor, as it can often be a really useful discussion leading to positive change.
 
Ultimately, however, therapy is for you. Client autonomy is key and, if you are not happy, then you do not have to feel pressured to commit to a certain number of sessions with a counsellor that you are not feeling that connection with. In these instances, it is more than OK to walk away and look for someone different. As counsellors, we understand that we don’t click with everyone and know the importance of a client making the best choice for them.
 
Good luck with your counselling journey and do get in touch if you feel that I may be the right counsellor for you. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10

Written by Catherine Beach

Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10

Catherine is a person centred counsellor, teacher and occasional poet from Kent. She is on a mission to rid the world of shoulds and musts so she can work with her clients to discover their passions, wants and needs. She firmly believes that we are all good enough but live in a world that often lies to us.

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