When I began my master’s degree in counselling, the first thing that struck me was how genuinely warm and kind my classmates were. In a roomful of people that supportive, I thought to myself, “I’m home!” It’s pretty true that, by and large, counsellors are a caring bunch of people.

That said, when you’re looking for a counsellor of your own, it can be hard to choose the right one. How do you know who will be a good fit – what should you look for? Choosing the right counsellor is an important decision, and there are a few guidelines that will help you make the right decision for yourself.

Talk with them first

The first thing you want to do is find one that offers a free consultation. You can do this either by phone or in person, and an ideal amount of time is 20-30 minutes. The idea is that you get to ask them some questions and get a sense of their style. Just like any other important relationship, there are some people you will naturally feel more comfortable with, and that’s the sort of feel you want to go for.

I find that when someone is new to therapy, they are often unsure of how this initial conversation should go. I encourage you to have a few questions prepared – after all, you’re interviewing them for an important position in your life. A counsellor should be approachable, professional, and prepared. A few examples of questions to ask include:

  1. What is your style of therapy?
  2. What is the structure of your sessions?
  3. What do you love about your profession?

Choose a registered counsellor

There are some exceptions to this and the designation doesn’t matter to everybody. Generally speaking, however, a counsellor having some kind designation is a good idea. Here’s why:

First, it shows that they have put in the time, dedication, and commitment to educating themselves well for this most trusted profession. For me personally, my ongoing dedication to education is an ethical stance that says I can hold the space for someone and I know what I’m doing. It also says that if something is beyond my scope of practice and I don’t know what I’m doing, I have the ethics and education to know that, and to guide a person elsewhere.

Another reason why choosing a registered counsellor (or social worker, psychologist, etc.) is important is for the purpose of benefit plans. If you have a benefit plan through work and it covers counselling of some sort, your plan will require you to engage in services with a registered provider. An important caveat: check with your plan to see what it covers. Some plans cover services with a registered counsellor, and others cover services with a registered social worker or psychologist. This will guide you in your choosing.

Go with what feels right to you

After attending to some of these checklist items, there really is no substitute for just knowing what and who feels right to you. Many factors may influence that decision:

1. Do you have a style of therapy that you either prefer or feel curious about? Maybe you’ve heard of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and want to try it out, or you’ve done Narrative Therapy before and really like that approach. When a third party is paying for the sessions (for example, a graduated return to work after injury), they may require you to engage in the evidence-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In that case, you might want to ask a counsellor about that. I will add here that research shows that the therapeutic relationship, more than any other factor, determines the success of therapy. In other words, if you have a good bond with your counsellor and you trust them, you’re more likely to reap the benefits of counselling.

2. Are you looking for someone with particular training in a certain area? For example, above and beyond offering anxiety and depression therapy, I have specialized experience with body image, self-esteem, and eating disorders. I also have training in issues pertaining to gender and sexuality: my ethical stance is to be an advocate and ally for gender-affirming health care. Other people have special designations in art therapy or somatic therapy – the list is broad and varied. Think about what is important or interesting to you, and try to find a counsellor who fits that description.

3. Money may be a factor and if so, don’t be afraid to ask a counsellor if they have a sliding scale. Even if they don’t explicitly say it on their website, many counsellors offer sliding scales based on financial need. In fact, if you have any questions that aren’t answered on their website, be sure to ask. You may be pleasantly surprised if you do.

I hope this article helps you in your pursuit to find a counsellor who is right for you. Please feel free to reach out if there’s anything I can help you with. In health and wellness, Deirdre.

About the Author

deirdre mclaughlin (she/they/we) is a counsellor, sex educator, and phd student in clinical sexology. they live and work within the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the tmixʷ (Syilx Okanagan), snʕickstx tmxʷúlaʔxʷ (Sinixt), and ɁamakɁis (Ktunaxa) peoples, as well as many other diverse Indigenous persons, including the Métis.

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