How do I Choose a Counselor?

Let me help you take some of the guesswork out of choosing a therapist. 

You might be wondering:  Where else can I look for a counselor? Should I see a man or a woman? Old or young?  What is an MFT, MSW, PsyD, MD? Why are they called "shrinks"? How do I find a therapist with specific traits such as intellect, specialization,experience, or just nice?  

I have compiled a few useful tips, advice, and thoughts on this topic from myself, my colleagues, and my library.

Age and Gender
It may seem that the age or gender of your therapist is an important quality to consider when selecting who you will work with.  As it turns out, many clients find that the different perspective of a therapist from another age group, gender, or even generation can lead to greater understanding of their individual issues.  Many therapists believe that it is best to work with somebody around your own age because they may have a similar perspective about what brings you in.  Most people come to therapy because they are stuck and are having trouble thinking about how to get moving in the right direction again.  New perspectives can be invaluable at times like these.  Regarding gender, it is sometimes helpful to pick a therapist from the gender that you may have more difficulty relating to.  For instance, if you are struggling with your relationships with men, it may be helpful to work with a male therapist.  On the other hand, if you are recovering from trauma, it is a better idea to stick with the gender that makes you feel the most comfortable.

Feeling Understood
"My therapist will not understand my problem because he has not experienced it himself."  This is a very common thought when people seek therapy.  If my therapist has never had children, how can they help me with my parenting?  Well, when we go to see a doctor for a broken bone, we rarely think to ask them if they have ever broken their own leg.  It is simply understood that they have education, training, and experience that will help them work with a variety of problems without having experienced it themselves.  It is the same process with therapy.  We are trained to work with all kinds of people and all types of problems. In fact, a therapist who has not had a similar experience as you, may be even more helpful because they will not be clouded by their own particular bias and belief system surrounding the issue.  In the end, each individual can experience the same issue in such different ways that it is more important to find a therapist who is open to understanding your perspective rather than using their own judgement of their own similar experience to help you. 

Trust your instincts
Set up some meeting.  Meet a few therapists and trust your gut reaction to whether you feel comfortable  with this person and decide if they can help you.  First impressions have a lot of value and you can let your intuition guide your choice.  How does it feel to be in the room with them?  Are they condescending?  Do they talk enough?  Do they listen enough?  Every therapist knows that there are personalities that they work well with, and personalities that they have more difficulty helping.  So, don't feel badly if you don't gel with a therapist you are trying out.  It might be more about them then about you.  Therapists are people too.

Shopping for Therapy

Although therapy is clearly unique as a product that you might be shopping for, but do not allow that to force you into "buying" a product that doesn't work for you.  It is okay to shop for therapy. It is not rude to discuss with your counselor that you are "shopping" for a therapist and they should not be offended if you choose to not continue with treatment.  If your therapist is offended or feels competitive, that is a bad sign that they may be clingy or desperate for clients.  Neither is a good stance for a therapist to be in. 
If it is your first time in therapy, I encourage you to go to a few therapists for one or two sessions to find somebody that feels right (or right enough) and then stick with that person for at least 6-8 weeks to give the therapy a chance to work.

MFT, PhD, MD, MSW
If you are curious what all of the little letters after our names are, read more on my article:  What do the letters mean?

If you have more questions or you want some information about counseling resources in your area, please feel free to Contact Me

Warmly,
Jeffrey