Pick a counsellor… Any counsellor?

So, you’ve had a think and decided that you might give counselling a go… The next step is to find a therapist/counsellor that you might work with. If you Google Find a Therapist, you will receive pages of links that might help you: some useful, some not so much…

Of course if you are accessing help through an agency you may be allocated whoever is suitable and who has a time slot that suits your availability. If this is the case do not think that you have to stick with the counsellor you are given. You may find that you don’t feel ok with your counsellor… and there may be many reasons as to why the match doesn’t feel right. How you feel when interacting with your counsellor or therapist is hugely important and you need to feel able to talk openly and honestly. Any experienced therapist knows and understands this and will work with you to resolve any issues or will help you seek out a better match for you. One of the first things I say to any new client is that if the partnership doesn’t feel ok then do please say so. So… back to choosing your own counsellor or therapist. I would love to say that when choosing my own counsellor I paid attention to all the good advice out there asking:

  • Is my counsellor qualified?
  • Is my counsellor experienced?
  • What type/method of counselling does my counsellor use?
  • Does my counsellor have particular experience/expertise/success in the area that I am most concerned about in my life?
  • Is my counsellor a member of a recognised professional body?

I quite simply went to the directory managed by the BACP, popped in my details, scrolled through the photographs, clicked on those that I thought looked “ok” (what does that mean*) checked location, price and then emailed. I was extremely lucky to find a good match with my first choice of counsellor. Other people I know have tried several before settling down into a comfortable therapeutic relationship. One way of avoiding wasting too much time is to perhaps ask around – word of mouth is a very good tool – but do remember everyone is different and everyone looks for something different in their relationship with their counsellor. My counsellor worked with three people off my course, three very different people, and all of us spoke highly of him. Another method of trying out your counsellor might be to contact them via telephone. Once again there is lots of advice out there as to how to how to handle this interaction. In An Introduction to Counselling, John McLeod offers some theory as to why finding the right counsellor for you personally as an individual is crucial to your therapy or counselling sessions. He says research has shown that “in the eyes of the client, it is the quality of their relationship with their therapist that has made the largest contribution to the value of therapy for them.” I have to emphatically agree that I have found myself unable to work effectively when I have not felt “right” in the counselling relationship, and yet I’ve not always been able to explain why. He goes on to say “the fact remains that theory and technique are delivered through the presence and being of the counsellor as a person,” so a counsellor’s so-called “way of being” is often what makes or breaks a counselling process for a client. I like Roger Casemore’s explanation of what happens in a counselling room: “What I will try to do here is to create a trusting relationship between us that will provide a safe place in which I hope you will feel very accepted and understood so that you can be in touch with your feelings and talk, without fear, about anything which concerns you.”

* Tracey Cleantis says “A Picture tells a story” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freudian-sip/201102/how-find-the-best-therapist-you

She says – If you have any doubt based on photos, I would listen to that and maybe see if you can find someone who you could easily sit across from. I am not saying your therapist needs to look like a supermodel—just if when you look at them and you feel any concern or apprehension, I would heed that intuition.

MB Games’ Guess Who? image from http://choptensils.wordpress.com/2008/11/29/on-guess-who/