How to find the right counselor

One of the most common questions I get from friends is, “What things should I look for if I’m trying to find a counselor?” I love knowing that my friends are trying to make wise investments in their personal lives.

Counseling can have a lot of benefits. Some you’ll notice right away: making time for your personal growth; clarifying goals; referrals for medication; having a safe, nonjudgmental place to share. Other benefits may take a little longer to appear: changed behaviors; relief from chronic mood problems; improved ability to manage stress and make decisions.

So, where to begin?

First, ask your friends for referrals. Odds are, at least a few of them have had counselors of their own, and personal recommendations can be a wonderful place to start.

A great second step could be checking websites like PsychologyToday to dig deeper. You can search for counselors by location, specialization, and even insurance provider! Which brings me to the third place to look…

Your insurance provider! If you call the number on the back of your insurance card, you can inquire about your individual/family mental health benefits and ask for a list of local providers.

By this point, you may already have a list narrowed down of potential candidates, and that’s good! Just like you don’t click with every person you date or form a friendship with, you won’t click with every counselor out there. It’s okay to be picky! FYI, counselors are aware of that, and we won’t be offended if you don’t figure that out until after you meet with us!

So, here are some questions you can ask potential counselors over the phone before you even schedule your first session:

  • What is your fee, and do you accept my insurance? (It’s worth double checking!)
  • When will you be accepting new clients? (If you’re experiencing a crisis, you want to know you’ll be seen as quickly as you need. Otherwise, you may be willing to be placed on a wait list for a counselor you think would be the best fit.)
  • What is your theoretical approach? (Counseling isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you have the right to know how your counselor approaches problems.)
  • Do you have experience dealing with my presenting issue? (Not only acceptable to ask, but also really important.)
  • What are your qualifications? (I call this the “alphabet soup” after my name: degree, licensure, certifications. You have a right to know whether your counselor has a license in the state where you live, where he/she earned the counseling degree, etc.)

*For my answers to these questions,
check out my FAQs page.

By the end of those questions (which counselors are used to answering… at least I know I am!), you’ll probably have a good idea about whether that counselor might be a good fit. There’s still no substitute for meeting someone. So, even if it’s a good fit on paper, it might not be once you get into the office. Because of first-session jitters, I recommend a couple of sessions to test it out. But just like a good date, you know when it’s working, and it’s always okay to acknowledge if it isn’t working. I tell all my new clients, “If this isn’t a good fit, I won’t be offended that you know what you want! Let’s try to figure out what that is so I can refer you to some counselors who might fit the bill better than I do.”

Although a counselor isn’t meant to be a friend who just tells you what you want to hear, finding the type of challenging you need is very important. It’s your mental health and your investment, so if there’s a question you want to ask, I hope you will!

Published by Jessica Gage, MA, LPC, NCC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (license #PC007550) and a National Certified Counselor.

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