Do your research! It is true, there are many people in the world who despite advertising “excellent services” “best counselling practice” “rated number 1” they are terrible at their jobs. Terrible. If you want to find a good counsellor put some elbow grease into it.

1. Find a therapist who works with the issues with which you are requiring support.

I would recommend collecting a list of at least ten suitable candidates.  Remember, hiring a therapist can be seen as giving an interview.  Why would you pay someone five times minimum wage without giving them a thorough interview process?  Once you have your list, make a point to contact each one of them.  A therapist passionate about their practice will likely be in touch with you within twenty-four hours or less.  You can access names of counsellors through channels such as friends, family members, online searches, and phone-book listings.

2. Create a list of questions for the therapist.

These may include:

  1. What are your rates and do you work on a sliding scale? There are hundreds of questions you could ask a potential therapist, so be creative and get all the information you need. I think it’s vital for therapist to work on a sliding scale because it can be nearly impossible for individuals to pay over one hundred dollars for an hour of conversation.  If you do your research you will find therapist with this option.
  2. Does extended health care cover the cost of therapy?  If the therapist is covered through a governing body such as the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors it is possible for extended health benefits to cover the cost (partial at least) of the therapy.
  3. What models/theories do you use in therapy?  There are hundreds of theories and therapeutic interventions therapists will use in practice but if you have the time, I would recommend educating yourself on the basics and expand your research from there! Psychodynamic Theory, Cognitive  Behavioural Therapy, Humanistic (existential) therapy, Person-Centred Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy are a few to start with.  Generally therapists will match certain theories to certain client issues.  Know too that once the potential therapists have given you information about how they practice, you could cross reference their statements through online searches to validate the information they’ve given to you.  Point is: be informed.
  4. Can you outline for me how you intend to address my problem?  After explaining your concerns to the therapist ask them how they will go about helping you.  Therapy can be an intricate process at times but can also provide quick fixes for certain issues.  Whichever the case for your issue, the hope is that the therapist can clearly explain the process of therapy and what to expect.  You should leave the interview with a  clear understanding of what your therapeutic process will look like.  Also find out their opinions about the difference between independence and dependence.  Therapy is not intended to solve your problems for you, but to help you solve them for yourself.  Be sure to work with a therapist who supports you in making the best choices to better your life through your own means rather than one who will hold your hand and do the work for you as this will only lead you to become dependent on your therapist.
  5. What is your education level and what are your certifications?  Make sure that the therapist you have chosen has a certification with a governing body.  Know that all governing bodies required therapists to provide educational documentation and provides them with mandatory liability insurance.  Seeing a therapist with liability insurance is vital because without it, neither one of you are protected.  It is also wise to ask them if they seek supervision for their practice as this will help you in the long run.
  6. How long have a you been a practicing therapist?  This can be a useful question to assess their level of experience.  Note too whether the level of experience and education matches with the cost.  In Canada it is customary for a Master’s level therapist with a designation as a clinical counsellor to charge a maximum of $110 dollars per session.  Any less education I would hope they offer a lower maximum charge and again, a sliding scale.
  7. Do you work in an office or provide therapy online?  These days we find that everything from books, to movies, to retail is finding it’s way online.  This includes therapy.  In another blog I’ll get into the pros and cons of online therapy but for now, I encouraged those who are interested in therapy to consider both the traditional in office option as well as the online option.  My favourite perk of online therapy is the convenience of seeing someone from home.  Again, I encourage you to educate yourself about this topic if you are interested in accessing therapy from a more convenient standpoint.
  8. Have you done your own therapy (or related “get to know this person” questions)? Getting to know your therapist at a human level is important so ask them personal questions!  They’ll be putting you on the spot so why can’t clients do the same?  There are ethical reasons why therapist will not disclose everything about their personal lives, but it is helpful to understand the basics of how this person came to be a therapist and what life challenges they have faced.  This will help you to assess to what degree they understand the therapeutic process from the clients perspective.  This way you as a client may feel more at ease knowing something about the person who will learn everything about you!  Further, it might be important to ask them if they are open to feedback from you about their practice and the help they provide to you.  If a therapist is unwilling or unable to take into consideration the feedback you provide about your care, it might be wise to find another therapist who is open to working as a team.  Remember, you know more about you than they do and although they can provide insights and guidance, there must be a collaborative dynamic for them to understand the type of support that will work best for you. So, I encourage you to stand up for what you need and tell the therapist what they can do to best help you!

3.  Be sure to speak with the therapist on the phone rather than corresponding through e-mail alone.

This will allow you to get a sense of the type of person they are.  Listen to yourself, if you feel uncomfortable, discuss this with the therapist and make an informed decision to continue or discontinue services.  All too often I have heard of individuals remaining in therapy for years when they really didn’t feel connected to the therapist.  You have a right to your feelings and you don’t owe the therapist anything so, speak up!

4. If you are satisfied up to this point, meet with the therapist once and check in with that inner radar.

Did you feel secure?  Safe?  Understood?  Validated?  It is important to note here that the first visit with a therapist can cause the jitters but despite this, you should walk away feeling supported.  If you do not feel supported, I would recommend voicing your thoughts directly to the therapist and if he or she does not provide resolution I would recommend to move on!  Remember however, that a therapists job is to challenge what we call “false core beliefs” (beliefs that lead you toward self destruction despite thinking they are healthy).  When we are challenged we may feel angry, sad, disappointed (to name a few) and may be inclined to end therapy.  Be mindful that when you work as a team with your therapist you can be challenged and supported at the same time.  The question is: are you willing to face your demons?  Doing so in a therapeutic environment is the surest way to personal freedom.