Choosing the right counselor is a very personal decision but here are some tips and resource links to help with that process:
We suggest that you first become familiar with the various levels of counselor certification in Washington State. Counselors should clearly define their credentials at all times when advertising his or her private practice. Hiding true credentials is considered unprofessional and unethical and is a red flag. There are many highly qualified counselors to choose from so look for proper licensing.If a counselor is advertising his/her private practice without using one of the listed credentials, (s)he is hiding his/her qualifications and doesn't want you to know. By hiding his/her true qualifications, the counselor is misleading you and thereby acting in an unprofessional and unethical way. It is not advisable to select this counselor. There are many highly qualified counselors to choose from. To view the most current Counseling Washington Counselor Directory click here.
Additionally, the State of Washington provides a pamphlet for persons looking for a counselor titled "What to Expect from your [Licensed Counselor]." You may want to download and print it for easy reading.
Another helpful resource to become familiar with is the credential acronyms, a list of acronyms used by therapists/counselors that identify their education and area(s) of expertise. There is also an article referencing misleading acronyms and initials used by unprofessional counselors and unethical counselors.
Counseling Washington considers the following to be misleading labels used by some professionals:
Ignore “Diplomate” Status
You may find persons who identify themselves as being a "Diplomate in Something", for example Diplomate in Behavioral Medicine, Diplomate in Professional Psychotherapy, Diplomate in Professional Counseling, or Diplomate in Chemical Dependency Counseling. It sounds impressive--like a doctorate--but consumers should ignore this particular "credential" since it generally has little meaning. It is unfair to expect the consumer to know which diplomates have high requirements, and which do not. One or two "Diplomate" credentials actually require very special achievement, however to best serve the public, Counseling Washington suggests not to weigh this information when choosing a therapist or counselor. While it boosts the ego of the recipient, and is a moneymaking activity for the issuing association, it should be ignored (neither a plus or minus) in the process of selecting a therapist or counselor.
Some questions to ask include:
- Am I looking for group or individual therapy, couples therapy, or family therapy?
- Am I looking for brief, solution-focused therapy or long-term, in-depth work?
- What issues do I want to work on? What do I hope to accomplish? How do I achieve that? Do I have a preference as to what therapeutic modality (such as verbal therapy, art, movement...) I want to work in?
- Do I prefer a male or female therapist? Does it make any difference?
- Am I available during the day or do I need evening/weekend sessions?
- What locations are convenient for me?
- What fee can I pay? Do I need a sliding scale?
Next, make a list of possible therapists and their phone numbers.
Talk to friends, family and others who may be able to refer you to a therapist. Additional sources for finding a therapist are advertisements, referral services, and local schools and CounselingSeattle.com or CounselingWashington.com. Ask to see if there is someone who specializes in an area or has a Niche Specialty?
Review and contact the therapist you want to know more about. Let them know you are shopping around.
You can contact many therapists through email, by phone or visit their web site. Some therapists will talk with you on the phone where you can get a sense of who they are and their work to see if there is a fit. Others prefer to talk on the phone briefly and then begin regular sessions. Still others offer one session at no charge.
Regardless of the therapist's initial policy, you have the right to ask questions to get a good match. Some questions you might ask include:
- What is your training?
- How long have you been in practice?
- Do you have Washington State certification, or license, a Washington State unified business number and a city business license?
- How much do you charge?
- When do you see clients?
- How soon could I get an appointment?
- Have you ever been in therapy?
- What issues do you work with? What do you specialize in?
- What experience do you have with the issues that I want to work on?
- Can you help me? If not, will you refer me to another therapist?
- How would we work together on issues?
- How long will it take?
As you make your decision, trust your gut instinct! No amount of training, paperwork or government regulation can ever substitute for your own personal sense of what is best for you. Then ask yourself:
- Do any of these therapists seem to be right for you?
- Do you feel safe with him/her?
- Do you sense you could connect with and work with this therapist?
- Is he/she comfortable with you and your issues?
Continue an on-going evaluation of your therapy process.
As you continue in therapy, talk to your therapist about your progress. You have a right to ask questions and to receive answers to them.
You, the client, are always in charge of your process. You have the right to refuse what your therapist is offering you. You have the right to change therapists and/or modes of therapy.
Sexual conduct and/or contact between therapist and client is NEVER acceptable conduct.
Outside relationships such as business, friendship and socializing with your therapist are also not acceptable because they create barriers to the therapeutic process.
Do you feel that you are connecting with your therapist? Feelings of discomfort are to be expected in therapy, but feeling unsafe with your therapist is a major warning sign to you.
Additionally, Hilarie Cash, PhD mentions ,"If you are looking for a therapist and have mental health insurance coverage, be sure to consult the insurance company's list of preferred providers."
One more consideration for choosing the right counselor or therapist is to become familiar with “modality” or the method a counselor may use for treatment. For example if you believe in faith-based healing as a part of your treatment, you may turn to a Christian Counselor.
To learn more about modalities and how this impacts your possible treatment, we advise that you become more familiar with these approaches. Treatment approach plans are decisions made between the patient and therapist. See our list of the most common modalities with their descriptions.
The information provided above regarding “choosing a therapist” was prepared by Seattle area counselors and therapists: Jay Schlechter, MA, Ph.D., Myra Rosen, MC, LMHC, Hazel Johnson, MA, RMTP, and Dean Allan, RN, MA.
Another interesting article is Dr. Helen's Blog, a commentary on popular culture and society, from a (mostly) psychological perspective, titled: How to Tell if Your Therapist Sucks Like a Bilge Pump.
When selecting a therapist, making the right choice often times takes working with a few professionals. What is important to you, addressing your needs as well as finding the right personality fit is instrumental in your success to find the best fit. It is perfectly fine to find the one that feels right for you. Keep in mind it is your well-being and treatment that you are investing in.