What to look for in a counselor?

Whenever I first see a new client in my office, I always ask “Have you seen a counselor before?” It tends to be about 50/50 for yes/no responses. For those who have seen a counselor before I like to follow-up with, “and how was your experience?” Unfortunately, a lot of clients report having had really bad previous counseling experiences. So what can you do to make sure that you find a great counselor, someone who can help you excel and meet your goals? These are my insider tips for what to look for in a counselor:

Tip 1. Look for a counselor who specializes in who you are and what you’re looking for help with.

A child sees a pediatrician; if you have a mole that needs to be removed you see a dermatologist; if you’ve got a broken bone an orthopedist is your best bet. Whoever you are and whatever you’re dealing with you want to see someone who spends their days at work seeing cases just like yours. One common trend that I see are counselors who claim to treat everyone and everything! I’ve seen listed under Psychology Today profiles and websites counselors who reported treating children, adolescents, young adults, middle age adults, older adults, individuals, and couples.

They also claim to treat everything under the sun like: Anxiety, ADHD, ADD, Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Operational Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, OCD, Depression, Weight Loss, Smoking Cessation, etc. etc…

Counseling Photo by Jaelynn Castillo on Unsplash

How can anyone have mastery and professional expertise for all that?!! The short answer is they can’t.

So then what happens is a client goes to see this counselor and ends up getting very little help and noticing little to no progress being made. Eventually, they feel so frustrated and disgruntled that they leave that counselor and have to start over with someone new. Avoid this mistake and save yourself a bunch of time and energy in the process.

Find a counselor who specializes in who you are and what you want help with. A child dealing with attention and focus difficulties should see someone specializing in child counseling for ADHD; a married couple having increased conflict and questioning separation should see a counselor specializing in seeing couples; a teenager dealing with depression should see a counselor who specializes in adolescent counseling and mood disorders.

I specialize in seeing college students, recent graduates, and young professionals who are dealing with stress, anxiety, and big life changes. This allows me to provide the very best counseling treatment. Whenever I get a phone call from a potential new client who isn’t a good fit for my specialty I always make sure to recommend someone who does specialize in who they are and what they’re looking for help with. This ensures a positive and successful counseling experience for everyone involved.

Tip 2. Look for a counselor who you feel comfortable working with.

Okay, so let’s assume you found a counselor who specializes in who you are and what you want help with. That’s great! You’ve contacted this counselor and have scheduled your first appointment. Now what?

The first appointment is very important because it’s the ideal time for you to get a sense of whether you want to work with this counselor or not. At the heart of whether counseling will be effective or not is the strength (or lack thereof) of the working relationship between the client and counselor. To more simply put it: if you like working with your counselor and have a strong rapport you’re going to get so much more out of counseling then if you don’t feel comfortable with your counselor.

This is why I always encourage clients during our first appointment to voice any and all questions and concerns. Approach the first counseling session like it’s a job interview (because in a way that’s really what it is) and you’re the one with the power to determine whether to give the thumbs up or pass on this counselor. If you do feel that the rapport is off and decide to pass and try out another counselor rest assured that this is ultimately in your best interest. Good counselors know that this is an essential part of the counseling process and we get it, we really do.

If you follow these top two tips when looking for a new counselor I know that you’ll be successful in finding someone who can really help. Even if you’re not sure whether I am the right counselor for you, please call. Very quickly I can determine whether it makes sense for us to schedule an initial appointment together, and if it doesn’t I’ll connect you with a counselor who is a good fit.

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