Choosing a Counselor
If you have never worked with a Professional Counselor, you may be hesitant or worried about what to expect. Each person’s experience will be different based on their own needs, goals, expectations, and the counselor’s style. Most counselors strive to individualize the experience to what will be most beneficial for a client. However, there are a few things that are applicable to everyone.
The counselor/client relationship needs to be a good fit to get the most out of your time. You may already know what you are looking for. Some people want a counselor to be confrontational. Others may want a more familiar, interactive style. Some people may want a quick fix for a particular problem, while others want in depth exploration and analysis. Many times you can find what you need to know about a counselor from their bio or a quick phone call/email. Typically therapists will give you a clue when talking about their training or therapy style. If you are looking for a brief, to the point style, and the counselor practices psychoanalysis, it won’t be a good fit. Specializations are also a good place to look. If you are looking for a counselor for a child under the age of 8, you want to look for buzz words like play therapy, art therapy, or early childhood development. All licensed counselors have some training in all areas, but those who specialize in a particular field may be more beneficial.
Another consideration is whether to look for a counselor in a private practice or an agency. The biggest factor when making this choice is availability. There are pros and cons to both. Private practitioners can usually see clients more quickly once services are requested since there is no waiting list or in depth registration process. They typically can provide a more private setting, a comfortable office, and more flexibility in their schedules. Also, with private practices, once you have chosen your counselor, you develop a therapeutic relationship that lasts beyond the treatment period. No unexpected transfers or interruptions that can happen with agency staff changes.
A possible con to private practice counseling is that there may not be an office person available at all times to take calls when your counselor is in session with someone else or out of the office. Any competent counselor will provide you with resources to help you when they are unavailable, and additional numbers to call in case of an emergency or emotional crisis. Agencies that provide mental health services usually have multiple people on staff at all times. This means that if your counselor is unavailable to see you, another person may be available to help. Many agencies also have walk- in services which don’t require an appointment. Many people coping with addictions that want constant availability to support or people who have unpredictable schedules or frequent emergencies tend to choose agencies for this reason. The cons for agency based counseling may include a lengthy registration process, waiting lists, staff turnover, and crowded waiting rooms.
Sometimes you have to try a few different counselors before you find what you are looking for, just like with doctors and other service professionals. If you finish your first session and decide it won’t work for you, don’t give up. You may be able to tell that particular counselor what you don’t like or what you were expecting, and work it out with them. Good counselors value transparency; don’t worry about hurting their feelings. If they can’t provide what you are looking for, they most likely can give you suggestions on who or what to try next.