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How to Choose a Counselor

By Community Relations Director Robert Pini

How do you find the right person when you need someone to talk to?

Choosing a counselor is not difficult if you gather some information and follow your gut feelings. It’s a bit like shopping for any other service.

First, decide what you are looking for. Do you want a male or a female counselor? Does it make any difference to you?

There are many different types of counseling to choose from, such as couples counseling, substance abuse counseling, family counseling, individual counseling, or group counseling. Just pick the type that’s right for you. Are you looking for brief, solution-focused therapy or long-term, in-depth work?

Before you start shopping, decide what issues you want to talk about and what you hope to accomplish.

Second, ask people who they would recommend. Your doctor might be able to refer you to a counselor. You can also ask friends, family or others who have already had counseling. Start a list of counselors and their phone numbers.

When you start calling counselors, let them know you are shopping around. You can get a sense of some counselors over the phone while others might want to discuss your needs and goals in person to see how they can help you.

This is where you start using your gut feelings to find the right fit: someone you are comfortable talking to who is reassuring and safe and seems to get who you are. You are always in charge of the process and can make your own choices.

You also might want to know

  • the counselor’s training and certification/license,
  • how long s/he has been in practice,
  • if s/he has a graduate degree,
  • if s/he has experience working on the issues you want to talk about.

In choosing a counselor, everyone is curious about how they will work together and how long will it take, so go ahead and ask those questions. Experienced counselors explain how they can help. They will give you a basic outline of their approach and an indication of how you can evaluate your progress toward your goals.

A good counselor should participate in regular peer consultation with other colleagues. Using the idea that two heads are better than one, peer consultation provides a counselor with another level of objectivity and feedback.

Finally, to help you solve your concerns, your counselor should provide hope but not guarantees.

What if someone you know needs help but is not getting it?

Your patience and understanding could be vital to the process of getting help. No one can compel another adult to get help if the person is not a danger to themselves or others. But an understanding and trusted friend or relative can often help guide a person to get help.

If you find yourself in this position with an adult friend or family member, call a counselor or mental health professional to seek guidance on how to talk to someone who needs help but is not getting it. Also, people who have been in this position can help. They can be found through your local office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

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