In our current blog series, “There is a Village,” we’ve been highlighting the importance of building a village to support your relationships and family. One important part of building a village is knowing where to turn if you could benefit from the support of a professional counselor. Professional counseling can be helpful if you’re facing challenges in your relationships, both within and outside your family, as well as if you have concerns about your mental health.
Although seeking counseling has become more common in recent years, many people feel embarrassed about needing a counselor, as there’s still a stigma around needing this kind of help. However, there is no need to feel embarrassed about reaching out for counseling. It’s a brave step to take that you can feel proud of!
Most people feel perfectly comfortable going to a medical doctor to care for their physical health, even for a general checkup when they feel healthy. In the same way, seeking counseling is a way to care for your mental and relational health, even when things are going well. Many people meet with counselors for personal growth in their lives and relationships even when they’re not facing a crisis, but when they realize that there are areas they could improve. But, just like it’s important to know which doctor to call when you’re feeling sick, it’s especially helpful to know where to go for counseling when a more serious problem arises.
Once you’re ready to reach out for counseling, it can be difficult to know where to go. How can you tell if a counselor is right for you? What kind of counselor should you work with? How do you sort through all of the many options of counselors in our community? Can I even afford to see a counselor? These are all questions that may come to mind when you start searching for a counselor.
Here are a few steps you can take to identify potential counselors who may be a good fit for you:
First, ask for recommendations! This is one of the best ways to find a counselor, by asking people you know and trust who they recommend. As a counseling professor, I am asked for counselor recommendations probably at least once per week by people who know me, and I always welcome the chance to help connect my friends and others with counselors that I think would be a good fit to work with them. If you’re fortunate to have any friends who work in the mental health field, I’d suggest you start your search by asking them. If you don’t have any personal contacts with counselors, then consider professionals you know who might be able to offer a good recommendation, such as your doctor, your child’s pediatrician, a faith community leader, or a teacher or counselor at your child’s school. If you work in a job setting that offers an Employee Assistance Program, these also often offer referral services (often that include a few free counseling sessions as well!).
Second, if you’re unable to get any personal or professional recommendations, then you can search one or more of the online directories of counselors. Although these offer a less personal touch than asking for a recommendation from someone you know, they do offer an advantage of reaching a wider network of possible counselors, and also you can usually search by location, payment options, and areas of expertise. Some of the main directories that are available include the following:
- The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Directories/Find_a_Therapist.asp)
- Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists)
- Counselor Find (http://www.nbcc.org/Search/CounselorFind).
Many counselors also have web-sites for their practice or agency, so once you’ve identified some good prospects, take some time to do some additional searching of their online profiles to get more of a sense of whether they’d be a good fit for you.
Third, if you’ll be seeking counseling with one or more other people (e.g., your partner and/or children), then also be sure to consider whether a prospective counselor is a good fit for them. Some people are very flexible about what they’d prefer to have in a counselor, whereas other people have specific preferences for what kind of counselor they’d like to see. You’ll help to set the stage for a successful counseling experience if you can locate a counselor who meets as many preferences as you can of everyone involved.
Fourth, once you’ve identified one or more good possible fits, reach out to speak with the counselor. Many counselors offer prospective clients a chance to talk by phone–and sometimes even in person–to get to know them and how they work before making a decision about whether to enter into a professional counseling relationship with them. If you have a chance to talk with a prospective counselor to see if they’re a good fit, some possible questions to ask include the following: (1) Can you describe your counseling approach to me?; (2) What experience do you have with the issue I’m facing currently?; (3) What are your fees and payment options?; (4) How often will I come for counseling sessions, how long will sessions last, and do you have any limits or expectations about how long you’d work with a client?; and (5) What kind of training have you received to work with couples or families? In a preliminary conversation like this, you’ll want to get a good feeling about the counselor and how they’re style matches your expectations for the counseling process.
Look for a counselor who explains things to you in terms you can understand. One of the most important aspects of a positive counseling experience is feeling comfortable so that you can be open and honest with the counselor about what you’re facing and build a strong working alliance for the counselor to help you create solutions to your current situation.
Finding a counselor who is a good fit for you can take some time, so it’s a good idea to identify some good prospects when things are going well and you’re not in an immediate need of help. However, it’s never too late to reach out for help, and we are fortunate in our community to have many wonderful counselors available to support people facing a wide range of challenging situations in their lives and relationships!