Written by: Amy Gray, MS, LPC-IT, SAC-IT
So often people struggle to meet with a counselor, and on top of that it can often take more than one try to find a counselor that you connect well with. Research shows that your relationship you have with your counselor is a strong predictor of whether or not counseling has a positive outcome (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). This means that it is especially important to find a counselor that really understands you and meets your needs. Knowing that finding the right counselor is a common task shared many, these are some points to consider when you are seeking a counselor:
- Does your personality work well with their personality?
Counselors are human, and just like you have some people that you naturally connect with and some you don’t, sometimes connections just don’t happen. This doesn’t mean that your personality is flawed or any one counselor’s personality is better or worse in performing counseling, it simply means that it might take more than one try to find a counselor with whom you find the connect that you’re looking for.
- Does your relationship with your counselor lead you to feel comfortable, open, and honest?
As discussed earlier, one of the most important factors in a successful therapy experience, is your relationship with your counselor. Do you feel as if you can share in an honest way, or do you find yourself holding back your true self? Sometimes our hesitation to share can come from our own fears, worries, and expectations but if you find yourself sharing and feeling rejected, misunderstood, or judged by your counselor definitely speak up! Tell your counselor how you’re perceiving their message, this can lead to a very productive conversation that leads to beautiful growth (sometimes for both client and counselor!). Also consider that if you can’t seem to be open and honest with your counselor, and you feel like you have given them a fair chance to get to know you, it might be time to find someone who helps you feel more secure and safe.
- How do you prefer, and best receive, feedback?
Consider how you best receive feedback from others. Think of how you would want a friend, co-worker, or boss to tell you something that might be hard for you to hear. How might this person tell you in a way that you would best receive and understand the message? Your counselor’s job is to support you, and sometimes that means telling you feedback that can be tougher to hear. Some people prefer to hear constructive feedback in a direct, “don’t beat around the bush,” sort of way, and others prefer a softer and gentler approach to constructive feedback. Receiving feedback from your counselor in the way that you best hear it is an important factor to a fulfilling therapeutic experience.
- How often are they available to meet with you? Does this work well with the support you need?
Some people need more support than others, and that is absolutely okay! So, consider how often you would like to meet with your counselor. Some prefer once or twice a week, some prefer once every other week, and some prefer once a month, the only right answer is the one that is specifically right for you. Your counselor can offer their professional recommendations to how often to meet as well.
One caveat to meeting with your counselor, is expect to get out of counseling what you’re willing to put into it. Similar to physical exercise, if you fully commit to daily exercise, rarely skip work outs, and give it your best shot, you will likely see improvements to your physical health. If you miss work out sessions often and skimp on physical exercise, you will likely not see the results you were expecting. Counseling can be thought of in a similar way. If you skip sessions, hold back your struggles, and avoid your counselor, you might be at risk for not getting the results you had hoped for. If you give it your all, attend as often as you and your counselor discuss, and you come in ready to be open and share (or willing to talk about your hesitation with sharing), you are more likely to get the outcome you’re looking for.
- What are their professional qualifications and are they competent to help you with what you’re coming in with?
Licensed mental health care providers go through years and years, and then more years, of schooling, training, supervision, and certification to be able to provide mental health counseling. Throughout that schooling, it is typical for counselors to have worked with a wide variety of people. A good question to ask your counselor during the intake session is “Have you worked with others who have similar concerns to mine, and do you feel competent in treating my concern?” Ask questions and be curious about your counselor’s professional background, and be forward about sharing your specific concerns about receiving care.
- Do they accept your type of insurance, or do they have flexible payment options?
Consider the type of insurance you have and whether or not you need flexible payment options. Most mental health care providers and clinics understand that mental health care can get pricey. To help with this, it is quite common for agencies to offer financial accommodations, such as payment plans, to assist people in paying for their mental health care. For those who are fortunate to hold medical insurance, reach out to your customer service line on the back of your insurance card to learn more about which agencies are covered under your health care insurance. Many clinics accept a wide variety of insurance plans.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to finding a counselor, and these are some things to help you get you thinking about what you might need in your relationship with your counselor. When searching for your counselor, keep in mind your personality, communication style, relationship comfort, and scheduling and financial needs to set yourself up for the optimum chance to have a helpful and meaningful connection with your counselor.
Ardito, R., & Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic Alliance and Outcome of Psychotherapy: Historical Excursus, Measurements, and Prospects for Research. Frontiers in Psychology, 2: 270. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00270