How do I find a counsellor?

How to choose a counsellor

How do I find a counsellor….? This is a question that seems easy enough to answer at first glance, but actually contains a little bit more complexity than first meets the eye. I say this because when it comes to the question: How do I find a counsellor? There are actually two distinctly different steps involved.

Step one is relatively easy: Identify counsellors/therapists in your area who are relatively nearby and accessible. You have a number of options for this step, including asking a friend if they’ve seen somebody good locally, looking at the “find a therapist” register on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website (where you can locate counsellors/therapists within a certain distance from your post code), or simply google counsellors/therapists in your area – possibly searching for a particular expertise: depression, couples counselling etc…). Certainly, within the Bishops Stortford area there appear to be a great many to choose from, each with their own individual way of working.

Step two is a bit harder because once you’ve identified a number of possible candidates, you then need to choose the one that is right for you. I’m going to be brutally honest here and say that most of my professional colleagues really let themselves down at this point in the way they present themselves for this choosing part of the process. Most people who have made the decision to call a therapist begin by looking at a list of therapists/counsellors in some sort of directory. Sitting at their computer screen, they are confronted with a column of photographs (not all of them very well considered) and a short paragraph written by each counsellor telling you that they deal with everything in the world: depression, children, adults, anger, loss, short term work, long term work, short haired clients, long haired clients those with and without a kitchen sink, and everything else in between.

Once you have decided to open a couple of windows to examine a few of these possible candidates more thoroughly, you’ll most likely be confronted with a one page, off the shelf website featuring a photograph of a shoreline with rippling waves, or my biggest bug-bear: Pebbles. (What is it with counsellors and pictures of little piles of pebbles? I’ve never been able to figure this out, and it never ceases to amaze me!!!). If you then read down the page at all, you’ll see a couple more paragraphs that more or less repeat themselves providing another, longer description of the difficulties this therapist works with. From my experience this, frankly isn’t at all helpful to individuals in trying to work out and choose the right person for them.

At the end of the day, it is my experience that whether you will gel (or not) with any given therapist, and whether they are the right person for you is a very personal matter and one that should be given a bit of thought and effort. You can’t really tell from a website if a given possible counsellor/therapist “feels” right – even they don’t have a photograph of a pile of pebbles on their home page! At the same time, just because a therapist has a huge website (and I’m referring to myself here), doesn’t mean that they are the perfect person for you either. Whatever you do though, please don’t just choose a therapist based on price or locality. These things may be important, but should not necessarily be the most important factors in setting that first appointment. Be aware that a counsellor charging £25.00 an hour is pricing themselves based on their own opinion of their value. They may be newly qualified, or simply not very confident about their own worth. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are not proficient or that they would not be good for you, but if the difficulties you are experiencing are involved or complex they may not have the level of clinical practice experience you require.

It is my suggestion that once you have a shortlist of possible candidates (maybe 2 or 3), call them see how they come across on the phone. Do they have a professional manner that says they know what they’re doing? When you call are there children and barking dogs running around in the background? If you leave a message on an answerphone, do they call you back within an hour, or do you wait a day before calling them again to see if they got your message? Where do they actually undertake their counselling sessions? Do they have a dedicated space that offers easy access, privacy and confidentiality – or do you have to walk down a side pathway to their back garden to meet with them in their conservatory? When you speak with them or send them an email from their website, are they able to articulate what will happen in the first session, clearly describing the way they work and their methodology for determining how best to work with you, or does it all seem a bit haphazard?

It is your gut response to how the therapist you contact handles that first call or email that you (in my opinion), should be listening to. The answer to the question: How do I find a counsellor? is ultimately about you, your gut, and the ability of any given therapist to be able to relate with you in a manner that leaves you feeling they not only know what they’re doing, but that they are able to do it in a manner that suits your needs. This isn’t necessarily a difficult process, but you will do yourself a big favour by engaging in it as a process and putting in that little bit of effort to speak with a few people before making your choice.