First of all, let's acknowledge the credit you deserve for prioritizing your mental health. Deciding that you might benefit from counseling is truly one of the bravest and most meaningful things you can do for yourself. It is important for you to choose a counselor that you will be able to establish a trusting, therapeutic relationship with. You have many options available to you and I hope that these suggestions will help point you in the direction that is right for you.
Ask your family and friends for referrals. You may have found your dentist or physician by asking family members and friends for recommendations. If you know anyone who is in therapy and are comfortable asking them about it, see if they would recommend their counselor. If the idea of seeing the same counselor as your best friend feels strange to you, you might be more comfortable asking if s/he could get a list of recommended clinicians from their counselor.
Look into a counselor’s education and experience. A counselor who has a graduate education is more likely to have the training and skills to ensure quality and ethical therapeutic services. A counselor with a graduate degree (or more than one!) might have a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, counseling, psychology, social work, or another related area of study. Counselors can also have doctorates in these fields, which include Ph.D.s, Psy.D.s, and Ed.D.s. It is easy to believe that someone who has a doctorate will be your best therapeutic bet. However, it is also helpful to consider a counselor’s experience. How many years has s/he worked as a counselor? Does s/he have specific areas of expertise that might be particularly beneficial for your counseling? For example, specific concerns, such as those relating to post traumatic stress, might be best addressed by a counselor who has specialized training in trauma.
It’s okay to shop around. You are a consumer and consumers have rights. Be empowered to weigh your options carefully based on what feels important to you. After all, you are paying for a service. It is common for people to talk to at least a couple of counselors before finding a good match. All the education and experience in the world does not necessarily mean you’ve got the best counselor for you. Feel free to ask your potential counselor questions about their experiences, treatment approaches, and whether or not they feel comfortable taking you on as a client. Most importantly, trust your gut. You are embarking on a very personal journey and you want to do this with someone who is a good travel partner.
What else makes a good match? First and foremost, you should feel safe in the therapeutic relationship with your counselor. A counselor can have the best education and decades of clinical experience. These mean nothing if your counselor is not someone you feel comfortable talking to about very personal topics. As you weigh your options, some questions you can ask yourself include: How safe do I feel with this counselor? How well does the counselor understand me and do we seem to “connect?” Does this counselor seem to accept me for who I am and genuinely care about my welfare?
My hope is that you found this information helpful. Most importantly, I want you to enter the therapeutic process believing that you have choices, particularly if you are in a mental space where you do not feel as empowered as you would like. If you have any other questions about things to consider when looking for a counselor, don’t hesitate to ask.