Any Google Search will produce a list of therapists/counsellors for your choosing. The question is… which therapist is good for you? Here are some questions to consider:
1. What is it like to speak with the therapist when inquiring about therapy? Do you feel comfortable? Does the therapist sound easy and down-to-earth? Do you feel that the conversation is flowing smoothly, and there is a good balance of empathy verses providing facts? Or, instead, does the therapist sound distant or too sure of him or herself?
2. Does the counselor have a graduate degree? The term, ‘counsellor’, or,’ therapist’, is not regulated which means anyone can use it. Some people take short courses and can relate to people and believe they can be a therapist. A Masters level therapist has the education (four years as an undergrad and two years post grad), training, perhaps an internship, skills and experience to provide a safe and ethical service. A graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, counseling, psychology, social work, , or another related field of study provides the kind of expertise to operate an effective practice.
3. Does the therapist have certificates, registration, licensure or belong to an association that regularly instills good practice? Each province or state has the ability to regulate practice guidelines. Some states require a license, and others require or recommend that a professional belongs to a reputable organization and has achieved a level of skill, knowledge and experience where membership depends upon reaching certain expectations. Registration or legislation implies that a counselor has engaged in extensive postgraduate counseling experience which, depending on the province or state, may include up to 3,000 hours of required supervised experience to start. These professionals continue to obtain regular training and supervision to achieve high standards. There are many unlicensed therapists who have years of experience and do excellent work, but counselors with membership to a recognized body of professionals have (generally but not always) jumped through more hoops and have undergone more extensive supervision than those that do not have registration or certification.
4. Can the counsellor clearly define how he or she can help you ? Experienced counsellors usually develop a relationship, and through a series of questions, tease out issues, priorities and begin to develop a basic road map to success. Based upon years of practice, a good therapist can usually forecast how long or how many sessions this may take. Keep in mind that this estimate is fluid and depends upon the investment the client makes for change to occur. It also depends upon the array or depth of challenges. A good therapist will spark change within the first three sessions. While insight is a first step, it sometimes it takes a number of sessions to begin to unpack the layers of protection (behaviours and emotional defence strategies) a person develops to avoid pain and stress. These are the things that are addressed with a good therapist.
5. Is there some kind of ethical framework a good therapist follows? There are a number of ethical principles that a good therapist follows, which are taught as part of the schooling, practiced in the teaching internship, and combined with the therapist’s sense of what is proper. Some examples of key ingredients to a good practice are how boundaries, confidentiality and dual relationships are addressed. For example, if you are a lunch buddy of a person who is a therapist, you could not also seek out that person for therapy service; this is called a dual relationship. A therapist’s sole goal is to meet client counselling needs. They do not have any other relationship (friend, employer, etc.) at the same time as the counselling relationship is in place. There are some exceptions such as if the therapist and client live in a small community . The basic guideline is that the needs of the client are met first. A therapist relationship is not in place to also meet the needs of the therapist. If this occurs, it can damage the process. Each association has its own ethical standards. Examples of standards can be found at the following links:
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
Code of Ethics American Psychological Association (APA)
Code of Ethics American Counselling Association (ACA)
Code of Ethics National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics
6. Where does the therapist seek his or her own consultation to keep up the good work? Wise counsellors seek peer consultation with advisors or colleagues in their field. Consultation provides a place for the therapist to review cases, (no names), receive advice, seek objectivity and unhinge one’s own “blind spots” and blocks to helping the client fully. (Therapists are trained, but are also human!) Seeking consultation is an important and helpful part of a good practice.
7. Does the therapist have experience with the issues that I have? Ask the therapist the questions you need resolved before starting your counselling. The more time dealing with certain issues, the more expertise that is developed. Some therapists have a wide foundation for a general practice and then specialize in certain areas… or they have had a lot of clients seek help in one area. Either of these two scenarios will build a therapist’s expertise.
8. How available is the therapist? Ideally, the therapist you choose will have times suited to your schedule. Be sure to ask the therapist about the options to receive therapy.