How to Pick a Counselor or Therapist
5 Tips to Help You Choose the Right Counselor or Therapist for You
by Daphna Levy
When an individual is faced with challenging life situations that bring them sorrow, pain, worry or stress, they may seek counseling or therapy.
Both counseling and therapy, according to the Ohio State University, are treatments for mental health problems. Counseling tends to focus on a specific issue and is considered a short-term treatment, while therapy tends to focus on a broader range of issues and can be a long-term treatment.
You will be talking to your counselor or therapist about personal issues that you may not want to discuss with your friends or loved ones. Perhaps you don’t want to worry them or have them judge you or even push their opinions or advice on you.
Your counselor or therapist must be the right fit for you. Just because they have a certificate on the wall, doesn’t mean they can provide the help you need to overcome your issues and achieve your goals.
But how do you know if you have chosen correctly and if you stand a chance of getting the best-possible help and results? The following tips will help you do so.
1) Interview the Counselor / Therapist
Before you commit to working with a counselor or therapist, meet and speak with him or her. Tell them about your issues and observe their responses. Are they condescending? Do they, in any way, make you feel wrong or inferior? They should make you feel safe to communicate and share your story.
Now ask them how they work. Get an idea of their approach. Does it make sense to you? Do you agree with it?
What you want is a counselor who treats you with respect, who does not judge you and who offers practical solutions to your issues. In other words, you don’t want to merely “understand” your problems. You want to know what you can do about them.
2) Are They Quick to Diagnose or Medicate?
Counselors and therapists are practitioners in the field of mental health. In that field, emotional conditions such as extreme unhappiness or severe worry are labeled “depression” or “anxiety.” Extreme mood swings are labeled “bi-polar disorder” and the love of shopping is labeled “Compulsive Buying Disorder.” There are many other mental disorders (illnesses). In fact, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is the handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental illness, and it lists nearly 300 mental disorders!
While mental disorders are considered a health condition, you should know that there are no lab tests, X-rays, brain scans or chemical imbalance tests that confirm them as physical conditions. Additionally, they are said to have no cure. The patient learns to cope with them and manage them with medication. These medications are psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs that are addictive and have serious side effects.
If your counselor or therapist is quick to diagnose you and, in particular, quick to prescribe or recommend medication, run the other way. He or she is not the right fit for you⎯not if you are a normal person who, like the rest of us, is going through a rough patch in life.
So do your own research and think for yourself. It is your life, your body, your future.
Note: The following website is a source of factual information about psychotropic medications and their side effects: www.cchrint.org
3) Do They Get Results?
This is very important. You want a counselor or therapist who is competent and who gets results. Can they show you testimonials or reviews that prove their effectiveness? Do they offer practical advice that gets favorable outcomes for their patients? And if so, are those the outcomes you are looking for?
For instance, if you want help getting over a breakup or loss of a loved one, have they successfully helped anyone with situations similar to yours? That is, real help, not the medication type.
Even if the counselor has passed the three tests above and you have started working with them, be alert to the following tips.
4) After Each Session
After each session, evaluate the outcome. Ask yourself, “Did I learn anything that helps me feel better?” “Did I gain any tools that could help me do better in life or accomplish more?” “Do I feel more confident, hopeful or optimistic?”
Every session should make you feel better equipped to meet life’s challenges. And you should feel better, not worse, about yourself.
5) Between Sessions
Observe how well you feel and do in the days following your counseling or therapy session. Are you more productive? Are you having more good days than bad? Do you feel more motivated? Do you get more done? Is your attention shifting from the past and beginning to focus on the future?
If the counseling or therapy is effective⎯not just an opportunity for you to vent⎯you should see a steady improvement and, in due time, find that you are able to stand on your own two feet.