Okay, so you have decided you don’t want to waste any more time feeling stuck, anxious or depressed, so what next? How do you choose what kind of therapy is right for you, and how on earth do you decide who is the right counsellor?
There are many different types of counselling and they all have their place. What is important to know, is that the qualities of the individual counsellor and the features of the relationship between the counsellor and client that are better predictors of the successful therapy outcomes than the type of therapy. This is consistently backed up by research.
“Well, how does that help me?” I can hear you ask. That’s a very good question. The most important lesson to be drawn from the research is to trust your instincts and to make up your own mind when choosing a counsellor. But, there are some specific areas to think about that can help to guide you in the right direction.
Before calling a counsellor
- Decide if you have a preference for a male or female counsellor.
- Think about how much you can afford to spend per month on counselling.
- Location is important. Does it need to be close to public transport? If you are driving, is there parking? Perhaps you don’t want counselling in your local area.
- Think about your availability. Evening and weekend appointments often get filled up first, so this question can quickly rule a potential counsellor in or out.
- If there was a particular counsellor that you were recommended or felt a connection with and they don’t have a space, you could ask if they have a waiting list or if they could recommend somebody to you.
When you make initial contact
- Safeguard yourself by asking the counsellor if they are registered with a professional organisation such as BACP/UKCP/BPC. This means that their qualifications and experience have met the requirements of the professional organization they belong to. It is also an indication that they follow the ethical guidelines.
- If you have any concerns, don’t be afraid to ask where they trained. What is important here is to find out if they trained at an accredited college/course, not just a short online course.
- You may want to ask if they have had their own counselling. This is important to know. If counsellors have tackled their own issues, it doesn’t influence their judgement and get in the way of your therapy.
- The practical issues are important to ask about during the initial contact. Do they have available availability that suits you? When would your first appointment be? What are their fees? Some counsellors reserve a number of places for lower cost counselling.
- Mention if you are planning to pay through your insurance company. Not all counsellors are set up to do this.
- Does the counsellor have an area of interest or specialty? No counsellor can be all things to all people. Do they have experience dealing with your issues?
- After the initial contact, notice how you felt and what your first impression was. Make a note of any queries or unanswered questions that come for you after the initial contact and ask them in your first session.
Your first session
The first session can feel a little bit like an assessment, with the counsellor asking more questions than usual and there may be forms to fill. But each counsellor will have a different style so it’s good to ask if ongoing sessions will be like the first session.
- After your first session pay close attention to how you are feeling and what it was like being in the room with them.
- Did you feel listened to and that your needs were understood?
- Did you feel a connection with the therapist and that you would be able to develop a trusting relationship with them?
- Were you comfortable with the pace of the session or did you feel pushed into revealing too much too quickly?
- You don’t have to make a decision in the first session and you don’t have to go back if you decide they are not the right counsellor for you.
- If you notice you have seen a few counsellors and you can’t seem to find anyone who is a good fit, this is an important observation. It may be a sign of your anxiety about starting counselling and this is worth mentioning to the counsellor.
- Remember there is no obligation to go back after the first session, it is your choice. Notice your responses, trust your intuition and take the time you need to make your final decision.