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  Choosing a Counselor

There are likely to be many opinions in the professional community regarding the best way to choose a counselor. The following are simply my own, based on personal experience and the feedback of my clients and colleagues over the course of 20 years.

1. By far the best method for choosing a counselor is a personal referral. This means a referral from a known source whose judgment you trust, such as a family physician, close friend, or co- worker who has personal knowledge of the counselor's quality of work, their character and their professionalism. Counselors have very diverse styles and personalities. A good fit is the best predictor of positive treatment outcomes. If you meet with a counselor and don’t feel they are a fit for you personally, pay attention to that gut feeling. It is probably correct.

2. If you are new in town or simply have no means to get a personal referral, you can browse the Yellow Pages or the Internet under the following headings: Marriage Counseling, Social Workers, Marriage Family & Child Counselors or Psychologists. Those would be the main headings under which you could locate useful information. Look for ads which refer to your specific needs. Most counselors list the areas of treatment they have experience with.

3. In the case of a personal referral, place a call to the counselor. It is unlikely that you will reach them directly when you call. Most counselors have a message machine since they are generally in session during business hours and can't answer the phone. What is important is how long it takes to receive a return call. It should never be more than 24 hours from the day you place the call. It can often be in the evenings, so be sure to leave all numbers where you can be reached.

4. If you are placing calls to an unknown therapist, try to speak with no less than 3, no more than 5 different counselors before setting up an appointment. (It gets confusing if you speak with too many!) You'd be surprised at how much you can sense about your comfort with a particular counselor over a 5-10 minute phone contact. If any counselor refuses to spend even 5 minutes on the phone chatting about the nature of your needs before the appointment is made, move on.

5. If you have never been in counseling before, it can be a very enlightening experience interviewing more than one therapist for an initial session. This usually lasts about an hour, maybe 90 minutes (my initial evaluations are 90 minutes). Therapists are not all created equal. It will add to the cost of your experience in the beginning, but can save you some serious money, time and energy in the long run. Choosing carefully minimizes the chance of ending up with a counselor who isn't a good fit for you. It is possible to spend twice as much time and money but learn half as much from a poor fit.

6. Once you've had your initial session you should have a good 'gut feeling' about whether the therapist is a good fit for you or not. Pay attention to that feeling . . . it's your intuition talking. Learn to trust it. If you don't have a clear sense that the therapist understands the nature of your problem or you don’t feel confident that they can help you, move on.

7. Always feel free to contact the main professional board that the counselor is a member of (NASW for Social Workers, CAMFT for Marriage and Family Therapists, APA for Psychologists) . You should be able to inquire about whether the counselor has any complaints registered or pending against them. This is simply for your own peace of mind, just as you might investigate a potential child care person or M.D.