Last week I was looking for a groomer for my dog. I found an app online that allowed me to mark all of the things I might be interested in; dog breed, price range, distance from my house, office based or home visit, etc. It occurred to me that we have no hesitations in thinking about exactly what we want from professionals such as dog groomers to baristas. Yet we so often have no idea how to choose a counselor. Mental Health is a topic that still doesn’t come up in casual conversation very often, so few people think about what they should look for in a counselor. Here is a short list of 5 things to think about when you’re searching for a counselor.
1) Goodness of fit: Is this somebody I think I can talk to? Like really talk to? Do I feel like they are excited to see me? Do they listen? Do I feel understood? Do I feel judged?
2) Specialty: Counselors typically have a specialty. Mental Health is a really broad profession, much like general medicine. Counselors specialize in different areas of concern, different populations, and different modalities of treatment. Think about what you want to work on. Does this counselor specialize in anxiety? Substance Abuse? Homelessness? Adoption? Trauma? Ask your counselor about their specialty. Listen for them to tell you how what they do will help you meet your goals.
3) Resources: Counselors practice in a variety of settings. Some work in group practices, others in agencies with additional resources, some work in combination with psychiatrists. If you think that additional resources, such as group therapy or medication management, might be of benefit for you; consider looking for a counselor that has access to those resources within their practice. This allows for your team of professionals to communicate and provide a unified treatment experience.
4) Think about payment: Counselors work in a variety of settings that mean different things for payment. Some non-profits provide services free of charge. Some counselors accept insurance which may mean a lower rate, a deductible, or small co-pay. There are other counselors who only accept private pay. There is also the option of sliding fee scales. Think about what you’re willing to invest in your services and ask what options and resources are available to you.
5) Don’t hesitate to try more than one counselor: Its all about fit. Counselors, like people, aren’t all the same. Some of us are quiet, some are sarcastic, some are younger, some prefer to work outside. If your first experience with a counselor wasn’t what you thought it would be, keep looking. The right professional is out there.