What should I look for in a counselor? Part 1

The number one predictor of counseling success is the quality of the relationship between the client and the counselor—regardless of the theory or method used. You will want to find a counselor who is a good “fit” for you. If you have a counselor you trust and feel comfortable with, that opens the door to a productive and positive counseling experience.

Here are some important things to ask about and look for:

1. Qualifications. Licensure requirements vary by state, but in general a counselor needs to have completed a masters degree (or higher) in counseling psychology or a similar field, a period of supervised training/internship (usually lasting several years), and state and/or national licensing exams that cover counseling theory, process, technique, law, and ethics. An intern is a counselor-in-training working through the licensure process under a licensed supervisor. Your counselor should pursue continuing education and be in good standing with the state licensing board—information you can look up on the board’s section of the state government’s website.

2. Ethics. Counselors are bound by codes of ethics set either by state law or by their professional organizations. In general, these ethical codes emphasize the importance of confidentiality, clear relational and policy boundaries, respect for clients (including non-discrimination and non-exploitation), competence, professional relationships, and legal responsibilities. Examples of ethical codes include those set by CAMFT and NASW. Certainly, the vast majority of counselors work within prescribed ethical guidelines. However, if you suspect unethical behavior on the part of a practicing therapist, those concerns need to be addressed and may need to be reported to the governing licening board.

3. Clarity. You need to know what counseling is about and have your questions answered straightforwardly. As part of the informed consent process, your counselor will talk to you about your expectations and goals, the process of counseling, confidentiality and the counseling relationship, risks and benefits of counseling, fees and policies, and so forth. This information should be in writing as well. You should be able to ask questions at any time and get the answers you need to make informed decisions about counseling in general and to understand your counseling process in particular.

4. Therapist qualities. We all have some people and personalities we prefer and some we clash with. I’ve known excellent counselors who are blunt and opinionated, and I’ve known excellent counselors who tend to be diplomatic and flexible. Some work in concrete terms, others use metaphors and stories. Some use art and drama, others use meditation and reflection. Some talk a lot; some hardly say a word during the counseling hour. All can be effective. It may be helpful to interview a few therapists so you can choose the one that fits for you.

Next time, I’ll address finding that “fit.”

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