How do I know who is the right counsellor for me?

I speak from the position of believing that successful therapy begins with the quality of the relationship between counsellor and client. So, while it may seem counterproductive to offer thoughts that may mean you choose a counsellor other than me, I might at least have played a part in ensuring that you choose the right counsellor for you.

Whether you’ve found your way here via a search engine turning up my website, my profile on an online directory of counsellors or by recommendation, I encourage you to now think past the words on the screen and into what you need to feel.

“How does that make you feel?”

It’s a well-worn, cliched and almost comical phrase, but it has real value in helping you to work out which counsellor fits with you to develop that all-important therapeutic relationship. Here are some ideas on how to navigate the choice and test your feelings:

Draw-up a shortlist of therapists

Some of the factors that will influence your shortlist of potential counsellors are likely to be the cost of sessions, location of the counsellor’s room and how the profile picture appeals to you (yes, really!). The written profile will give you some insight into how each counsellor works, their style and perhaps how they’ve trained. Try to find a few of these that make you want to pick-up the phone or send an e-mail to find out more.

Think about what you need to say and know

Initial contact is likely to be a brief phone call or exchange of e-mails. As a general guide, these a few things you may want to think about upfront:

What do you want to say about your circumstances? You’ll be speaking to a stranger, albeit a qualified one, this is not therapy yet so it’s wise to have an idea of how to describe what’s going on for you, in a way that feels safe and contained.

Have you heard about a certain style of therapy that you think will help you?

Ask each counsellor for their thoughts about that and how they would work with it in relation to your issues. They may also be able to offer you alternatives that appeal to you.

Do you have previous experience of counselling that worked well for you, or left you feeling that something was missing?

You may wish to check out the counsellors’ views on this.

Do you have no previous experience of counselling?

Any counsellor should be able to offer you the reassurance you need about the process ahead.

What knowledge of your specific issues does each counsellor have?

This may be worth exploring, but it’s also worth considering how important specialist knowledge is to you. There are some circumstances where it is undoubtedly important. In adoption for example, specialist training by the counsellor is required before working with these issues; with some presentations, such as eating disorders and other clinical conditions, specific knowledge of the complexities may be very valuable to understanding the challenges faced. Beyond that, most counsellors have a breadth of experience and will want to hear your story, told in your way. You are the vital element and the counsellor’s ability to hear you as a unique individual is perhaps what you need to understand.

What do these counsellors offer in terms of next steps?

Some will offer a full session at their full rate from the outset, others may give you the choice of a shortened introductory session or phone call, free of charge, before arrangements for a full session are made. There is no right or wrong approach to this by the counsellor. If you like what you’ve heard so far, the choice about how to proceed is up to you.

The important feelings

Let’s bring this back to the simple fact – what’s important is how you feel. It could be that you are comfortable to go ahead with the first counsellor you communicate with, or you may have gone through a process that looks more like the one I’ve described here. Either way, I hope you will identify a counsellor who makes you feel:

  • This is a person you be you can be open with, perhaps only a little at first, but with the prospect of being able to say what you need to say when you’re ready to say it.
  • Heard. This is person who will hear your experiences and emotions without judgement, enabling you to explore what’s going on from every angle.
  • This is a person who will seek to understand the challenges you face with empathy and help you to find answers for yourself. These are the answers that will make a real difference!

Bare in mind

Counselling can be tough. It may feel worse before it feels better. Your choice about whether or not to continue at any point should be respected by your counsellor. But before you give up, or move on, stop and reflect – if you’ve found a counsellor that you sense you can trust, talk to them about the bumps in the road. The therapeutic relationship takes time to build. What you feel – your instincts – are an excellent guide and trust is the key.

Worth knowing

Therapeutic counselling is an unregulated profession. That means that anyone can say they’re a counsellor and draw you in. Membership of a professional body is voluntary and, of course, doesn’t guarantee a ‘good’ counsellor (your instincts will do a better job of that). Membership does evidence that a counsellor has gone through a rigorous process of training and is committed to ongoing professional development while adhering to a code of ethical standards.

The main membership bodies are:
  • British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy – BACP
  • National Counselling Society – NCS
  • UK Council for Psychotherapy – UKCP

Others exist, depending on the various branches of training.

If a counsellor is not a member of a professional body, they should be happy to explain their choice in way that you’re comfortable with.

Also, you may not hear back from every counsellor you contact. This is not personal and is entirely a reflection on the counsellor. Keep going, the right counsellor is out there for you.

Last, but not least

Good luck and perhaps I will hear from you. If so, I look forward to the discussion that follows.