How to find a professional counsellor or therapist for relationship help or mental health counselling/therapy
If you’re looking for counselling/therapy, I imagine it’s because you’re experiencing difficulties and challenges in life at the moment.
In which case, I’m so glad you’ve landed here. Trying to find a counsellor can be confusing and overwhelming. But I’m here to help you by giving you all the information you need to make the right decision for you.
The information in this article is the same regardless of where in the world you live, be that the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand or anywhere else. You’ll also find further information on the ‘how, when and where’ of seeking help in my article on how to get trustworthy relationship advice.
Know what to look for and what to ask a prospective counsellor.
Psychotherapist, therapist or counsellor: what’s the difference?
Broadly speaking, in the UK, you don’t need to worry too much about these titles. They all do pretty much the same job, so they all sit under the umbrella of talking therapy.
There are some places in the world where the labels slightly differentiate the training an individual has received. But for the purposes of your search for counselling therapy, all you need to know is that the professional you choose is well trained, accredited and legitimate.
In this video, Kati Morton does a really good job of explaining how different mental health professionals in the USA are trained and what they can do…
(Please note: I do not agree with her that you should routinely visit a psychiatrist!)
How do you find a qualified, trustworthy counsellor or therapist?
At the very least, you’ll want to ensure that your counsellor is accredited with, or licensed by, a professional, reputable organisation. That way, you can be relatively sure that they:
- are qualified,
- are insured,
- adhere to a code of conduct,
- have a complaints procedure in place (although it’s rare that you should ever need this).
You can also check the credibility of their organisation online, and the standards/qualifications required for professional membership.
Don’t worry if you’re already confused by all that. Further down, I’ll give you some easy but vital questions to ask when you first speak to a counsellor/therapist.
Where do you go for counselling/therapy?
Without a doubt, it’s best to find a counsellor/therapist local to you. There’s nothing quite like a two-way conversation in person (with the added bonus of body language feedback too).
Sure, you may well be nervous when you make that all-important phone call. But, hey, you want counselling/therapy because you’ve already had to face some really scary and difficult stuff! So, trust that this is nowhere near as frightening as you might think. We counsellors know how to make you feel at ease – it’s in our DNA.
If you prefer, you could email first instead of calling. Then you can be sure that the time you arrange to speak is convenient both for you and your prospective counsellor.
Here are some ways to find counsellors in your area:
- Ask your insurance company if they have a list.
- Ask at your local health centre for a referral.
- Ask your employer if there is an employee assistance scheme.
- Ask people you know who’ve been for counselling/therapy.
- Search online counselling/therapy directories.
Online counselling has been available for many years now. However, the quality and affordability of services provided can sometimes be questionable. As with everything online, you do need to choose carefully where you spend your money and who you give your details to.
Because online counselling can be a minefield, I’m really pleased to be able to signpost you to a legitimate, professional and reputable resource: Better Help.
I am affiliated with Better Help (and you can easily check out my credentials and theirs online). Better Help was created by someone who just wanted to be able to connect with a professional, licensed counsellor/therapist who was available where and whenever they were.
Better Help also offers online marriage counselling. For more information on marriage counselling, see my article: Does marriage counselling work?.
It’s super easy to register your interest with Better Help. They make sure you get connected to a professional therapist who has a particular knowledge of and experience with your specific problem(s).
One of its greatest advantages is that you can connect with your counsellor whenever it suits you, regardless of the time, your location or the device you’re using. So nothing needs to stand in the way of you getting the help you need.
How do you know a particular counsellor is right for you?
The information in this article offers overall guidance to help you find a counsellor. How you feel about the individual therapist you choose will be down to you. You’ll know if you click with them or not :-)
Here are some questions to help you figure out how you feel:
When you speak to the counsellor on the phone, what’s your first impression?
If you caught them at an inconvenient time, did they return your call when they promised?
Is she/he taking the time to listen and talk to you?
Are they happy to answer your questions?
If the person just doesn’t feel or sound right to you, trust your instincts. You don’t have to stick with the first counsellor you find. Simply carry on looking for someone you feel more comfortable with.
What you should look for in a counsellor
Here are my suggestions for questions you might like to ask the counsellor you’ve decided to contact.
Choose the ones that are most important to you. If someone is unwilling to answer your questions, or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, trust your intuition and carry on searching for the right person.
Pick the ones that you feel confident about asking, and/or that are particularly important to you.
1. By which organisation are you registered, accredited or licensed?
This gives you a chance to check the organisation’s requirements/standards for professional membership. Or, very seldom necessary, make a complaint.
2. Have you completed your training as a (couple) counsellor/therapist?
A counsellor in training may be excellent at what she/he does, and is perhaps building on previous experience in another related job. However, you might decide that you’d rather work with someone who’s finished their training.
Need a marriage counsellor, or a couples/relationship counsellor? In that case, please make sure that your counsellor has specifically trained as a couple counsellor/therapist. Many counsellors decide to offer couple counselling without having had any or sufficient training. A few weekend courses are not good enough!
Just in case…
It could be that you’re hoping to ‘send’ your partner for counselling. However, sending someone for counselling seldom works. They have to choose to go for counselling.
So, just in case – here are some articles your partner (or you) may find helpful: Love advice on the secrets of a happy relationship, Healthy relationship tips and Problem-solving strategies. The two of you may also find my marriage compatibility test questions useful.
3. How did you gain your qualifications?
You really don’t want someone who’s done their training through a distance or online course. They simply won’t have solid experience/knowledge of what it means to support someone face-to-face or online – in my opinion.
4. How long have you been practicing as a (couple) counsellor?
A counsellor/therapist may have been practicing for a number of years. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a lot of experience. They may not actually have seen that many clients, especially if they’ve only ever been in private practice.
An experienced counsellor or therapist is unlikely get stuck on the surface problem. He or she will be able to see the underlying patterns that generate and maintain your issue(s).
However, even if a counsellor has a ton of experience that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he/she has acquired the right skills. And regardless of their experience, you’ll also want to feel that they are indeed a match for you.
5. How flexible are you with appointments? Or, when are you able to respond to me online?
This is particularly important if you’re working shifts or if you rely on other people for childcare. Some counsellors or services offer little flexibility and expect you to keep to a certain day and/or time each week.
With regards to online counselling, you may live in a different time zone to your counsellor. In which case, you’ll want to know when they’re likely to be available and if that’s a time when you’ll be awake too!
6. How long do the sessions last, and do you normally start and finish on time?
Some counsellors aren’t concerned about finishing on time. That can lead to you becoming anxious about commitments you may have arranged for after the session. In my view, counsellors and therapists should set an example when it comes to creating and maintaining boundaries with regards to agreements about time, place and behaviour.
7. What will be the frequency of the sessions?
Many counsellors who work face-to-face will want you to commit to one session a week. I personally (and indeed most human givens therapists) don’t find it necessary for you to commit to weekly sessions. You’ll know how much time you can commit, so it’s best to know from the start if your expectations match those of your counsellor.
8. How many counselling sessions am I likely to need?
Well, how long is a piece of string? :-)
It can be difficult to answer this question, but the counsellor should at least be able to give you some indication of the number of sessions. Some will be of the opinion that you’ll need many months or years to really benefit, or even to begin to feel better.
For online counselling therapy this is slightly different. Why? Because it takes more time to build up a relationship and for the counsellor to truly understand all the details. It may also take you a little longer to feel that your counsellor/therapist really gets what’s going on for you. That’s potentially more because of the manner of communicating – writing, apping, emails, etc – than the professional relationship itself.
Those that do mainly short-term, solution focused work are more likely to give you an average number of sessions. Your counsellor will discuss with you what’s achievable in that time and what might need more work in the future.
9. How much does counselling/therapy cost?
For in-person counselling/therapy, this varies according to:
- where you live
- the approach the counsellor takes
- how experienced he/she is
- the length of the sessions offered
He/she may offer reduced fees if you’re a student or are in receipt of benefits.
For online counselling with Better Help, you simply pay a set fee per month – regardless of how often the two of you connect and what your needs are.
10. Will the focus be mainly on my past, or on resolving present difficulties?
Depending on the counsellor’s approach to counselling/therapy (see further down), sessions may be largely focused on your past, particularly in the beginning. That may or may not suit you and it may or may not be necessary, depending on what you want to achieve and on your history.
Is digging up the past likely to help you get better? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly if you’ve suffered a very recent trauma, this approach is not advised.
11. Are you trained/able to treat conditions such as OCD, anxiety, single event traumas?
The counsellor may or may not know how to deal with particular conditions. Some will consider that once you’ve dealt with any underlying past difficulties, these specific problems will probably be sorted too. Whether or not you’d prefer to focus on the specific issue or its potential underlying causes will be down to you.
12. What counselling/therapy theory or approach do you use? Can you explain that?
What is meant by ‘theory’ with regards to counselling and therapy?
If you’re interested in being able to distinguish between different theories in counselling/psychotherapy (a minefield!), then do ask the person you contact exactly how he/she works.
Counsellors and therapists are trained in different approaches. How one counsellor approaches you and your problem is likely to differ from another, according to how they’re trained and how much experience they have.
Research has shown, though, that most experienced counsellors use skills and knowledge from different approaches. It seems that they naturally work more in line with the Human Givens.
It’s also very useful if your counsellor has some idea about how the brain works!
When you’ve met your counsellor
Whether you’ve booked a face-to-face appointment or connected with a therapist online, your first session will help you figure out of you’ve made the right choice.
10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW AFTER THE FIRST COUNSELLING/THERAPY SESSION
- Whether you feel you can trust the counsellor
- Whether you feel you can get on with and be comfortable with her/him
- Whether the counsellor has the right training and experience to deal with your particular problem(s)
- Cancellation policy and fees
- Flexibility of timing and frequency of sessions
- If the counsellor generally does short-term or long-term work
- How many sessions you can have if they are externally funded
- Frequency and length of further sessions
- If attending as a couple, whether you can (or should) have some separate sessions (including for online counselling), and…
- If you can turn up without your partner unannounced
Remember, if something doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to stick with the first counsellor you choose. It’s so important that you feel 100% comfortable with the individual you’ll be working with.
The professional relationship you develop together is the most important factor in a successful outcome. And a good, trustworthy and professional therapist won’t be offended if you say they’re not the right fit for you.
Do I need an assessment?
Your first session should ideally be used to begin to deal with the problems, rather than just being an assessment. It matters not if that are relationship problems or mental health problems, whichever is most pressing for you. However, that does depend somewhat on each individual counsellor and service.
It might also help you to think that the first session is an opportunity for you to assess the counsellor too (see above).
Questions about ending counselling/therapy?
You may have questions about ending the counselling relationship. It’s sometimes difficult to know how to stop the sessions, particularly when you’ve built a good relationship with your counsellor.
If you have developed a good relationship, the chances are that you’ll feel comfortable enough to discuss ending the sessions with your counsellor.
But if it’s something you don’t want to talk about just yet, here are some questions that may help you to approach the situation:
10 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT ENDING YOUR COUNSELLING SESSIONS
- Have you talked to your counsellor about stopping?
- How difficult is it to bring up the subject, and why?
- What do you think that says about your relationship with your counsellor?
- How comfortable do you feel with your counsellor or therapist?
- Is the counselling helping you?
- Is it making a noticeable difference?
- Did you and your counsellor decide on a specific number of sessions to start with?
- Have you talked about ending the counselling relationship, but the counsellor is resisting?
- Have you perhaps reached a really difficult stage and are you feeling scared about continuing? Have you talked that through with your counsellor?
- Do you feel angry with your counsellor or therapist for any reason? If so, have you been able to tell him or her how you feel?
If you’re really not sure, you may like to discuss the situation with someone independent. You can do that, in confidence, by contacting the organisation your counsellor belongs to.
Finding the right counsellor or psychotherapist
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s really important that you find the right person for you. If you’re not entirely happy after the first session – don’t give up on counselling/therapy. Find or ask for another counsellor or therapist. You already know how to do that now :-)
If it’s taken ages for you to pluck up the courage to even call someone, then keep that momentum going. You’ve done it once, so you can do it again!
Seize the day! You now have all the info you need to find the right counselling therapy for you.
So I urge you to resolve to make that call or click the Better Help link, and set up your first session right now. I can almost guarantee that that single positive action will immediately start to lift the weight from your shoulders. And I wish you all the very best for your journey to recovery :-)
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