Top tips on how to find the right counsellor (part 2)

by Miro Cansky on 4 November 2010

In part 1 of this article, we have covered a number of practical issues regarding our search for the most suitable counsellor or psychotherapist. After considering the aforementioned points, we made our choice and now are ready to make the first contact with our prospective counsellor. What follows are some further suggestions to help you make your counselling experience as positive as possible.

Bristol counselling and mindfulness1. Your counselling starts when you pick up the phone
Many of us wouldn’t think that the therapeutic relationship begins as soon as we call the counsellor to make our first appointment. Those few minutes on the phone, however, have a great importance and can help us in gathering a lot of information about the practitioner. My suggestions here would be twofold:

  • First, it is very helpful to have some clarity about what you would like to address in your counselling . The counsellor might ask you a general question about this to see if he or she will be able to offer the appropriate service you are looking for. Some therapists, for example, wouldn’t feel well equipped to work with trauma, so it is important to be clear about this question from the start. You might then be signposted to a colleague or an organisation specifically dealing with your particular issue.
  • The second important point is to be aware of your immediate reaction as you speak to the counsellor. What is your ‘gut feeling’ as you listen to his/her voice? How are they approaching the conversation? Is your impression that they are rushed, relaxed, reassuring, slightly challenging, direct, pleasing or distracted? What impact does their tone of voice have on your immediate mood? If you feel generally pleased with the way the counsellor communicated with you and with their manners, that is a good sign. If, however, you felt uneasy, distant or irritated during and after the phone call, take those reactions into account. Your intuitive responses matter and can serve you as a compass not only while looking for a counselling professional but also in your day-to-day exchanges with other people.

2. Details matter – don’t be shy to ask
After making your first appointment, the time has come to meet your prospective counsellor in person. During the initial session, I would suggest to focus on the following:

  • Fees - some counsellors offer concessionary rates for people on a low income so don’t be shy to ask (if you haven’t done so already during your phone conversation). A five pound discount can make a significant difference over a longer period of time.
  • Your issue - make sure you spend enough time describing what particular area of your life you want to work on, including your expectations and goals. Find out about the counsellor’s experience and training in the area you want to address in counselling.
  • Holiday arrangement - will your counsellor charge you for sessions even when you are on holiday? This question only needs to be considered if you plan a longer-term therapeutic work but it is better to clarify this point sooner rather than later. Some therapists will say that when you are on holiday, they can’t fill your regular slot with another client and will charge you the full fee.
  • Cancellation policy - usually you will not be charged for your session if you cancel more than 24 hours prior to your appointment, but practitioners differ so it’s helpful to be informed beforehand.

3. How do I know I found the ‘right’ person?
Well, you can never be absolutely sure that you discovered the ‘best’ therapist in your area. But here are some pointers: if, during your initial appointment, you felt respected, listened to and accepted for who you are, the likelihood is that you will feel comfortable enough to open the door to your inner world, let the other person share your fears, joys and confusion and help you re-orientate yourself in the maze of your life. If, on the other hand you felt unsafe, scrutinised or simply distant, take your time with your final decision (unless this is how you feel with everybody, and then this might be the issue for you to work on).

4. Finally – don’t rush your decision
And don’t forget – counselling is a service and you are a customer, which gives you the advantage of being in a position where you can compare the market and choose. It is absolutely acceptable to agree with the counsellor that you will take some time to think about your decision and will get back to them later. This actually shows that you are serious about your commitment to work on yourself. Therefore, I would suggest meeting more than one counsellor to see how they compare in terms of their particular styles of work, expertise, and knowledge and how they come across as people. If you trust your intuition, follow your heart and don’t give up easily, you will find the right support for yourself.

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