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How people make the decision to pick one counselor or program over another when seeking help seems to come down to one thing, does the therapist call you back.  If you are able to get a call back what to ask is the next step towards getting in to see if you like the person and their philosophy.

I am particularly sensitive to times when a person talks about their experience in seeing a therapist for the first time and leaving feeling like they drove into a cul-de-sac and came back to the point they started.  No doubt it is frustrating to look for someone, fill out the paperwork, make time in your day to go to an appointment, get there and discover it feels all wrong and you cannot believe all you went through for very little.

I am a pragmatist, for the most part, and it seems to me that word of mouth is a helpful way to choose someone who has helped a friend. But is that the best approach to choosing a counselor? What worked for a friend may have very little applicability as it relates to personality, the issue at hand as well as availability.

One thing to help with this is to ask a counselor if they would talk with you by phone for a few minutes giving you an opportunity to screen him or her.  Preparing a list of questions before the call is essential when speaking to the average busy therapist.  In my case I schedule phone appointments for this purpose for 15 minutes to help us both figure out if the issue that a person is seeking resolve for is something I can help.  Questions about training that you may find helpful include:

•How many years has the person practiced their approach?

•Do they receive supervision for their services from a more experienced and skilled therapist on a regular basis (monthly is very common)?

•How did they come to find this approach (their life experience led them, a friend who had the issue, etc)?

•Why do they find the approach helpful?

•How do they address the problem of a client not improving, do they have a time frame they work in, do they give you a referral, will they inquire about what is being done outside of sessions to improve the outcome)?

One approach to choosing a counselor is to screen for someone with the same beliefs as you.  Getting validation from a like minded professional can sometimes be the most valuable help of all in a time when you are feeling wobbly about what you are doing.  You may be approaching something effectively but if self doubt is eroding your confidence getting time to discuss your situation discreetly can be a valuable form of support.

Another approach is to find someone with a different way of seeing things or with training in a specific area in which you can learn something different from what you’ve tried.  Like the years spent in school, we learn new things that give us information to examine our own beliefs and challenge the notion of “that’s the way it’s always worked.”

Would you be willing to take a moment to pause?    Take a deep breath….then think for a moment about how you make choices. Take another pause and breathe again.  Ask yourself these questions:

1. What component of your dilemma is causing you to look for help?
2. How will you know you are accomplishing your goals?
3. What outcome you are seeking?

Laura J. Halford

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