Finding a Therapist, Version 2.0
In 2010 I wrote the article, Finding A Therapist which has been my most widely-read (and unfortunately, one of my most frequently-plagiarized) article. It’s funny how memory works, because up until recently, I thought it was the first article I ever wrote. I did a search of the Internet archives, and now realize that it was my fourth. It did make me laugh, though, that there were only 4 articles back them, compared to the 142 that exist on my site today.
I recently had the experience of looking for specialized counselling help. In fact, as I write this, I’m not entirely done this process, but the experience of being ‘on the other side’ has been a humble one, making me realize that teaching others how to find a therapist and the experience of finding a therapist—are actually two very different things. Both relevant in their own way, but different.
I thought it might be interesting to go through my own 2010 criteria about finding a therapist to see if I think the same way, today, and whether I would add anything new. But more importantly, I want to approach this not just as a counsellor, but also from the perspective of someone who is actively looking for a therapist.
Key Points For Finding a Therapist – Then and Now
The Issue(s) At Hand
Counsellor note – I had identified this as important back in the day, and I still feel that today, because of the potential that issues can be misunderstood, or harm inadvertently perpetuated, if the therapist doesn’t have experience or knowledge about the area(s) that the client is seeking help with.
Client note – Having a therapist with expertise in a chosen area is important and enhances the experience of feeling supported and understood. The flip side is that the pool of potential counsellors will be more limited.
The Therapist’s Qualifications – Schooling and Credentials
Counsellor notes – Counselling remains just as unregulated today as it was back in 2010. I’m not personally privy to he inner workings of the push to regulate, as I’m so fortunate to be a Registered Clinical Social Worker that is a regulated profession here in BC, however the point here is that the public still needs to do their research when finding a therapist as some are regulated, some are registered, and some are not part of any college or association.
This will make me unpopular with some folks, but I believe that the public deserves counsellors who have a master’s degree or higher in a counselling-related field and who are part of a regulatory or registration body.
Client notes – It’s important to not only check counsellor websites to see whether therapists list their credentials but to also verify this on the professional college/association’s online public roster to ensure that therapists’ memberships are active and in good standing. Not all public rosters allow you to verify therapists’ standing or how long they have been registered, which surprised me.
I also learned that not all therapists disclose on their websites where they got their education; in such cases it is difficult for the public to know whether or not the school is reputable. If not on the website, looking at LinkedIn profiles is not necessarily helpful as the education field and/or dates of graduation can be optionally left blank.
The Therapist’s Experience
Counsellor notes – I believe that counselling clients should not be tasked with educating counsellors about the concerns they are seeking help for. Of course, it is important to witness clients’ unique perspectives and for counsellors to stay humble and open in their knowledge, however actually possessing experience and knowledge in areas important to clients is key.
I also believe that working as a therapist in private practice is actually advanced counselling practice. Junior-level therapists should own this without shame and should hire and commit to regular sessions with a clinical supervisor.
Also, however, less experience may be beneficial, as the counsellor may have been recently educated about emerging issues that older therapists were never exposed to when they went to school.
Client notes – It was often difficult to discern how much experience some counsellors actually had. Some had this listed on their website, and in other situations no hard dates were made available, either on their websites and/or LinkedIn profiles.
I also noted that the higher the specialty, the less counsellors there were to choose from, and the greater the possibility of finding less-experienced specialized therapists.
Counsellor note – I still think this is very important to measure counselling effectiveness, although I will say that as my style as a therapist has evolved over time my rigidity in applying outcome measure scales has also evolved. I continue to send a survey at the end of each and every session, where clients are encouraged to give any feedback about their counselling experience, but my primary focus now is creating a safe atmosphere and trusting counselling relationship that encourages clients to bring up any concerns or ideas, directly with me.
Client note – This factor, admittedly wasn’t on the forefront of my mind as I was trying to find a therapist. Of course, the ability to give feedback, if needed, and have it taken seriously is actually important to me.
Counsellor notes – Therapists range in their pricing and rates often depend on their discipline and the amount of experience they have. Budget is important, as the scenario of opening up to a counsellor and then not being able to continue because of financial reasons, can be very upsetting. One way of dealing with this is to be clear up front with your chosen counsellor about what your budget is so that the therapist can guide you in terms of what and how much might be reasonable to talk about in the time available.
In other circumstances it may be more appropriate to start off by choosing a counsellor with a sliding scale option.
Client note – I was looking for a therapist that was covered under a program that I had funding for.
The Therapist’s Personality
Counsellor note – It’s important to choose someone with whom you feel a good rapport with.
Client note – I surprised myself a little when I recognized how much importance I put on this. It was key to find someone who is kind, caring and sincere.
The Therapist’s Beliefs About Change
Counsellor note – Does the therapist’s outlook and view of how therapy works jive with yours?
Client note – From a client perspective, it was important to me that the therapist conveyed a realistic sense of hope.
Other Therapist Factors: Age, Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation
Counsellor note – One or more of these factors may significantly enhance rapport. Shared factors may also be critical in helping a client feel foundationally understood.
Client note – Some of these factors played a minor role for me and were more along the lines of whether particular therapist identities would enhance understanding of the situation.
Counsellor note – Back in 2010 when I wrote Finding a Therapist, version 1, location was key! Phone counselling, particularly in the city, was a fringe medium for delivering counselling, and secure, medical-grade video platforms did not exist. Almost every client I worked with came in person. Obviously, the pandemic and advances in technology changed all of that.
Client note – With a willingness to be open to the option of including remote counselling, I was surprised at how much larger the pool of potential counsellors was to choose from, even with limiting my search to BC.
Trust Your Guts
Counsellor note – Do you have the opportunity to talk to the therapist beforehand to help you assess your comfort level? Consultations are usually 15 minutes (free first sessions are rarer than when I first entered the counselling field) and therapists usually offer these by phone but sometimes they may be available via video or in-person.
Client note – The therapists that I chose to interview did not offer advertise consultations by video so I asked! I personally find video more useful than over the phone as to me the opportunity to see therapists was important.
A Few Other Factors to Consider
Counsellor note – Waiting lists for counselling have increased markedly during the pandemic and as counselling becomes increasingly normalized in society.
Client note – Waiting lists can be discouraging! I combatted some of this feeling by adding myself to more than one waiting list and asking to be placed on cancellation lists as well. I also noticed more closed waiting list than I was expecting.
Counsellor note – Ideally, counsellors should get back to clients within a day or two, excluding weekends and holidays. Potential clients are vulnerable and it is difficult to reach out to a counsellor for help. If a timely response is not possible, an automated message about when clients can expect a reply is important.
Client note – I am shocked to report that only about 50% of the therapists I contacted returned my message. The therapist part of me recognizes that many therapists are burned out over Covid and remain very busy but the client part of me felt strangely rejected, even though I also knew it wasn’t personal. The other thing I noticed was that response times varied, from a few hours to almost a week.
In conclusion, my client self has found the process of seeking a therapist difficult, even though my counsellor self supposedly has expertise in researching therapists! This exercise has given my counsellor self more empathy for the public and catalyzed me to further contemplate my practice, including how I engage with those seeking counselling. Respect, kindness, sensitivity, caring and response timeliness are key!
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