The Next Big Hurdle: Choosing a Counselor
Choosing a counselor can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s like you need to see a counselor to help you find a counselor! It can seem like you can’t find anyone while simultaneously the possibilities are endless. You may want to give up before you’ve even started therapy. Don’t despair, good therapeutic help is out there. You just need to find one that’s a good fit for you. These tips may help:
Online Searches. There are many credible online databases of therapists, usually searchable by factors such as location, specialty, cost, and insurance. Some of the most popular and credible ones are Psychology Today and GoodTherapy. Therapists typically pay a monthly fee to be listed on one of these websites. Many of these websites verify the credentials of the therapist, giving a bit more peace of mind to the consumer. If you’d like to see a therapist online through video conferencing, you can see any therapist who is licensed in your state.
Personality. Above all, find someone who is a good fit for you. Your counselor should support you with positive encouragement as well as push you to grow. Research has consistently shown that the number one indicator of client progress in counseling is the strength of the relationship between the client and therapist. You can also get a feel for the therapist’s personality through their web listings, their website, and their blog. Poke around and pay attention to your gut feeling about them. Take advantage of free consultations when offered!
Free Consultations. Because of the importance of the therapeutic relationship, many therapists provide a free 15-30 minute consultation. This gives you the chance to meet with them before you start officially working together. If you’re having a hard time finding someone, contact a few who offer free consultations. Pay attention to how long it takes them to get back to you and how flexible they are in scheduling the consultation; this can indicate how available and responsive they may be as your counselor. During this consultation, ASK QUESTIONS! Try to get a feel for this person. You are interviewing them, so don’t be afraid to ask some questions! Ask about how long they usually work with people, or how the sessions usually progress. Who decides what to discuss each day? Try to get a sense of whether their style will work for you. Ask yourself: if I met this person in other circumstances, would I likely become friends with them? Do I want to talk to them?
Training. Sometimes it seems there is an alphabet soup of letters following all these therapist names, indicating different degrees and certifications. My personal opinion (and it’s probably contrary to many other therapists) is: it doesn’t really matter what type of therapist you choose as long as you find someone that is a good fit for you. People who call themselves “therapists” or “counselors” typically include licensed mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Depending on the state, there are different rules about who is allowed to call themselves a “counselor” or “therapist.” If you find the person on an online listing service, like Psychology Today, they are probably some sort of licensed therapist.
Cost. Therapists range in cost with the low end being around $50/hour and the high end being around $200/hour. This can be even more for a psychiatrist. Think about this money as an investment in your future. You are well worth it! Be prepared to spend some money on yourself, confident that it will pay off in increased well-being and life satisfaction. When you start therapy, you should see or feel results sooner rather than later. Many people see a therapist once a week for only a few months, particularly if you are going through some sort of transition. For more in-depth issues, clients will attend therapy for longer. Make sure that your idea for how long you will see the therapist matches with the general idea and approach of the therapist.
Specialties. Therapists typically list specialties, which indicate experience, training, and interests. Look into the counselor’s specialties to try and find someone who names the issue(s) for which you are seeking therapy.
Insurance. You may have mental health insurance or EAP (employee assistance program) that covers mental health sessions. Calling your insurance company or using their online directories can be a good start to finding a therapist. Keep in mind that many insurance companies require a mental health diagnosis in order to pay for services, so your therapist may be giving you a diagnosis. The therapist may or may not discuss a diagnosis with you, but it’s your right to ask about it. In some cases, your employer may have limited access to your health records through the insurance company, so if you have any reservations about this, ask questions!! For privacy reasons, some people choose not to use their insurance for mental health services, and instead prefer to pay out of pocket.
Choosing a counselor can be overwhelming, but any counselor you contact should help you find one that is a good fit for you, even if it’s not them. It’s worth the time spending some time searching, scheduling some free consultations, and finding someone who feels right.