How to find an accredited counsellor or licensed therapist for relationship help or mental health counselling

Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 01-09-2010 | Modified: 28-05-2018

If you're looking for a counsellor at the moment, I imagine you might be feeling quite upset with what's going on in your life.

I'm so glad you've landed here. I can help you deal with the confusion about which kind of counsellor you might want to consider working with. I'll give you all the information necessary to help you make that decision.

If you live outside the UK, scroll past the first couple of paragraphs. You'll find plenty of information after that which applies wherever you live. By the way, I'm talking about an 'Accredited Counsellor or Psychotherapist' - that is a UK term. In the US, you'd want to find a 'Licensed Counselor or Psychotherapist'.

For more specific information about different needs in counselling, have a look at the following pages:
Relationship counselling
Divorce advice and counselling
Human Givens Therapy
Hypnotherapy FAQ and downloads)

Better Help - affordable private online counselling. Talk with a professional therapist. Get help now...

I want to be upfront with you - I may earn a commission from Better Help. You pay the same fee, regardless. 

How do you find a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist?

At the very least you'll want to ensure that your counsellor is accredited/licensed with a professional organisation. That way you can be relatively sure they are qualified and insured.

This is how you can find the details of counsellors in your area:

  • Contact specialist organisations
  • Look in your local directories under “counselling and advice”
  • Ask at your local health centre for a referal
  • Ask your employer if there is an Employee Assistance Scheme
  • Ask people who you know have been for counselling
Picture quote: The past can't be changed, but the future is ours to shape if we make the effort. Dalai Lama

How do you know a particular counsellor is ‘right’ for you?

The information on this page is a guide. Try and trust that you know who is right for you - you'll have a 'feeling' about who you'd like to see.  

  • When you speak to the counsellor on the 'phone, what's your first impression?  
  • Is she/he taking the time to talk to you?
  • Are they happy to answer your questions?

If the person just doesn't feel or sound right to you, trust your instinct. Carry on looking for someone you can relate to.

Watch this video to learn more...

Connect to a professional, licensed therapist at any time on any device.
For further information, see my page on mental health counselling.

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.  

Pick the ones that you feel confident about asking, and/or that are particularly important to you. I've also explained why the information each question will give you can be useful for your decision making. 

Are you registered or accredited? By which organisation?

Make a note of the answer - just in case you'd like to ring that organisation at any time for further information.

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 should know whether or not they're still in training.  

If you want to find a marriage counsellor (couples or relationship counsellor), please do make sure that your counsellor has actually trained as a couple counsellor. Many counsellors decide to offer couple counselling without having had any or sufficient training.

How did you gain your qualifications?

You really don't want someone who has done their training through a distance/on-line course.

How long have you been practising as a (couple) counsellor?

Counsellors may have been practising for a number of years. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have a lot of experience.  

Particularly if they've only ever been in private practice, they may not actually have seen that many clients.

An experienced counsellor doesn't get stuck on the surface problem - he or she will be able to see the underlying patterns that generate and maintain frequently occurring difficulties.

How flexible are you with appointments?

This is particularly important if you're working shifts or if you rely on other people for childcare. Some counsellors or organisations might expect you to keep to a certain day and/or time.

How long do the sessions last and do you normally start and finish on time?

Some counsellors are not concerned about extending a session. That means that you may become anxious about commitments you have arranged for after the session.

What will be the frequency of the sessions?

Most counsellors 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.

How many counselling sessions am I likely to need?

Well... this may be a little bit like: how long is a piece of string?  

However, the counsellor should give you some indication. Some will be of the opinion that you'll need many months or years to really benefit, or even to begin to feel better.  

Those that do mainly short-term solution focused work are more likely to give you an average number of sessions.

How much does counselling/psychotherapy costs?

This varies according to where you live, what approach the counsellor takes, how experienced he/she is and the length of the session. He/she may offer reduced fees if you're a student or are in receipt of benefits.

Will the focus be mainly on my past, or on resolving present difficulties?

The counsellor's approach may mean that the sessions will be mainly focused on your past. You'll want to think carefully about whether that would suit you.  

Is that likely to help you feel better? It may or may not. Certainly if you have suffered a very recent trauma, this approach is not advised.

Are you trained to/able to treat conditions such as OCD, anxiety, single event traumas?

The counsellor may or may not have any idea about how to deal with particular conditions. Some will consider that once you've dealt with any 'underlying' difficulties, those problems will be sorted too.

Do you adhere to a recognised Code of Conduct?

This is a given, if your counsellor belongs to a recognised professional organisation.

What counselling theory or approach do you use? Can you explain that?

For more information on theories and approaches, read on through the rest of this article...

What is meant by 'theory'

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!

10 things you should know after the first counselling/assessment session

  1. Whether you feel you can trust the counsellor
  2. Whether you feel you can get on/feel comfortable with her/him
  3. If the counsellor is trained and/or experienced with your problem
  4. Notice of, and payment for, cancelled sessions
  5. Flexibility in timing and frequency of sessions
  6. If the counsellor generally does short-term or long-term work
  7. How many sessions you can have if they are funded
  8. Frequency and length of further sessions.
  9. If attending as a couple, can you have some separate sessions
  10. If you can come without your partner unannounced

Why 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.

You don't have to commit yourself at this stage – it's fine to say you'd like to think about it before committing yourself. You're also ‘assessing’ the counsellor!

Questions about ending counselling?

I've noticed that people submit questions to search engines about ending counselling. These requests may of course come from counsellors who are training.

However, just in case you - as a client - are wondering how to end the counselling - read on for further information...

Ending counselling sessions or a course of counselling?

You may have questions about ending the counselling relationship. It's sometimes difficult to know how to end the counselling, particularly when you've built a good relationship with your counsellor.

Here are some questions that may help you to decide how to think through and articulate your wish to finish counselling:

10 Questions to ask yourself about stopping your counselling sessions

  1. Have you talked to your counsellor about ending? 
  2. How difficult is it to bring the matter of ending up, and why?
  3. What does that say about your relationship with the counsellor?
  4. How comfortable do you feel with the counsellor?
  5. Is the counselling actually helping you? 
  6. Is it making a noticeable difference?
  7. Did you and your counsellor decide on a specific number of sessions to start with?
  8. Have you talked about ending the counselling relationship, but the counsellor is resisting an ending?
  9. Have you perhaps reached a really difficult stage and are perhaps a little scared? Have you talked that through with your counsellor?
  10. Do you feel angry with your counsellor for any reason? If so, have you been able to tell your counsellor/therapist how you feel?

If you're really not sure, you may like to discuss it with someone independent. You can do that, in confidence, by contacting the organisation your counsellor belongs to.

Finding the right counsellor or psychotherapist

It's really important that you find the right person for you. If you're really unhappy after the first session - don't give up on counselling. Go through the process again.  

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... and now you know how to find a counsellor or marriage guidance counsellor!

In the meantime, there's much that you can do for yourself. If you're having relationship problems, then get my Complete Guide to Building a Happy Relationship.

If you're suffering from depression, I so want you to start dealing with it as soon as possible to avoid you becoming more and more miserable. Depression is such a debilitating condition.

Try to get yourself out of that deep dark pit as soon as you can. You can do it without therapy - HypnosisDownloads have a team of experts in the treatment of depression, so I recommend their super-humane and user-friendly downloads. See my page: Hypnosis Online FAQ, where you also find my recommended downloads.

If you're struggling with relationship problems, have a look at my Relationship Advice Resources page, which has links to all kinds of ways you can start improving your relationship today.

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Related Articles

How to Deal with Depression
Online Mental Health Counselling
Online Relationship Advice
Common Relationship Problems
Coping with PTSD
How to Find a Lawyer

Other helpful links

The Human Givens Institute
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
National Board for Certified Counselors
American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)
Australian Counselling Association
Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association

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Feel free to ask for help, or comment on this article

Elly Prior

Hello you! :-)

It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person and I check the comment sections daily.

Do feel free to ask for help. I would gladly write a few lines to help you.

If my article in some way is of help to you, please let me know. I'd be so delighted!

Oh, and English is not my native language (I lived in the UK for many years). Whilst my articles are edited, my comments here are spontaneous and unedited.

Images courtesy of: Symphony of Love, Enokson