April is Counseling Awareness Month, and while I’m pretty sure that most of you are aware of counseling, do you know how to be a good consumer of counseling services? If you are seeking a counselor to help you with a specific issue, how do you know which one to choose? Do you just start calling people from your Google search? Do you check reviews? Let’s look at the pragmatic considerations first before determining whether they can help you.
First, the logistics:
- “What is your fee structure and do you accept insurance?” It is important to know what you will be charged per session and whether your insurance will be accepted.
- “What is the length and frequency of your sessions?” Personally, I like to hear that the counselor starts with 50-minute sessions weekly, but the frequency can be adjusted depending on the need. I like to collaborate with my clients on frequency.
- If you have health insurance, the first thing you’ll want to know is whether it covers mental health services. This will require a call to your insurance agent if you don’t know the answer already. If you don’t have insurance for mental health services, ask the counselor whether they adjust their rates for people without insurance.
- Next, you’ll want to know if the provider you are considering is in or out of network. Just because they’re out of network isn’t a reason not to use them. You might be able to submit your receipts for reimbursement from your carrier. It could mean you will pay a higher co-pay. This will also require a call to your insurance carrier.
- “What is your availability? When could we begin?” If you are anxious to get started, someone who has a waiting list may not work for you.
- “Are you able to handle emergencies outside of the regular workday?” If you don’t think you’ll require crisis work, you can skip this question. If you think you will, you’ll want to know if they refer you to the ER, other clinicians or if they handle these calls themselves.
- “What is your cancellation policy?” Most places require 24-hour notice of an appointment cancellation. This is standard. Less notice makes it unlikely they will be able to fill your slot, resulting in reduced income for the practice.
- “Do you see your clients in the office or virtually?” If you have a preference, it’s important to know the answer to this question. There are some counselors who require in-person sessions, others who only offer telehealth and others who will do both.
- “Where can I see reviews on your services?” While reviews can give you a sense of how people feel about their interactions with this counselor, counseling is very specific to the person being seen. Someone may not be happy with a counselor while someone else thinks they are the best counselor they’ve ever worked with. Be open-minded about this.
Now, the “fit” questions:
- “How long have you been counseling?” Just because someone is new in the field doesn’t mean they can’t help you. They are up to date on counseling techniques and are typically under the direct supervision of someone experienced.
- “Who are your favorite clients to work with and why?” This will give you information about whether the person would enjoy working with you based on what your concerns are.
- “What are your credentials and qualifications?” There are different credentials a counselor can have. They may be certified, licensed or hold specialization certificates. For example, I am a National Certified Counselor, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified in Reality Therapy, Choice Theory and trauma.
- “Have you worked with people with problems similar to mine, and what is your success rate?” This will help you know if the counselor has experience with your particular concerns and how successful they’ve been.
- “What is your approach to counseling? Psychoanalytic, cognitive, Gestalt, behavioral or other?” I like to know the techniques a person will use. I, personally, don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing my past, so psychoanalysis wouldn’t be a good fit for me. I also don’t like behaviorism because I like to be in charge of my direction. I believe in internal motivation and an internal locus on control. This would make things like CBT, CT/RT, ACT or REBT something that would be good for me.
- “What do you believe about people’s ability to improve and accomplish their goals?” I believe everyone can heal, provided they get the knowledge they need and implement it. I don’t believe people need to be in counseling their entire lives.
- “What is the average length of time you work with your clients?” A year is not unusual. Some counselors see their clients longer. I am typically finished with my clients in six months.
- “How much input will I have in setting goals and developing a treatment plan?” Some counselors see themselves as the expert and have a lot of input in treatment planning, while others defer to the clients on this. I prefer the latter.
- “How do you handle confidentiality and privacy?” Privacy and confidentiality are required in counseling unless you reveal child or elder abuse or intent to harm someone, including yourself. The same HIPAA laws that govern your medical privacy apply to counseling.
- “Does your practice allow for a counselor change if I’m not happy with our progress?” This is important because there is no way to be sure about fit prior to starting your sessions. I like to see a practice that allows for one or two counselor changes—more tends to enable clients to change counselors when they get scared about progress.
- “Do you see your role as an expert, a collaborator or something else?” I think of counselors as collaborators. After all, they work for you, but they do have expertise in building relationships and psychological issues.
- “How do you handle it when clients don’t accomplish their goals?” This is important to know. You will want to choose a counselor who will treat you the way that works best for you. Personally, I like a balance. I don’t want to feel judged when I don’t, but total support encourages me to be a slacker, and that’s not good either.
Choosing the right counselor for you is an important decision. I hope this helps. I offer a 20-minute complimentary session to allow us to get to know each other to see if there is a fit. If you are interested in one of these, you can book it here.