The relationship between therapist and client is the most important factor in determining if counselling is successful. It doesn’t matter if the therapist graduated from a prestigious university, is endorsed by celebrities, or charges thousands of dollars an hour. The best outcomes will happen when you work with someone that is the right fit for you.
To help you find the fight fit, here are six questions to ask yourself when looking for a therapist:
- Do you need to speak to someone right now?
Many clinics have intake processes that will take weeks before you get an appointment. If you need to speak to someone as soon as possible, look for a walk-in mental health clinic or a crisis counselling center. They offer same-day appointments and are trained for these kinds of immediate needs. Other alternatives would be free distress hotlines, or even your local emergency line (e.g. 911). Understanding this need is going to narrow your search considerably.
- Do you have financial barriers or insurance limitations?
If you have insurance coverage, check with your provider first to see what they cover. Some will only provide coverage for therapists with certain designations, or only if referred by a doctor. Do you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through your employer? Often counselling is covered free of charge for a set amount of sessions under these programs. You also need to know that some insurance providers are considered the ‘client’ which means they can request access to your confidential file.
If you don’t have coverage and can’t afford to pay the full session prices out of pocket, look for counsellors that offer sliding-scales rates, low income subsidization, pay-what-you-can, or pro bono. Community resources, charities, or nonprofits in your community may offer counselling. Oftentimes these organizations lack the financial resources to market their services to the masses but can be found if you go looking for them.
- Is this a long-term or short-term issue?
If you access short-term counselling but have long term needs, you may find yourself frustrated, overwhelmed, or feeling abandoned at the end of those sessions. If you’re deciding to change jobs, this is going to take considerably less time than working through larger, chronic or ongoing issues. Most subsidized, insurance-based, or free counselling services have a limited number of sessions—anywhere from 3-10 typically—and this might not be enough to meet your needs. In these cases you’ll need to be prepared to pay out of pocket, or negotiate a fee with your therapist.
- Is there a very specific issue you want to work through?
Many counselors will specialize in specific issues and will usually indicate that on their website. Do you have nuanced needs, like a counsellor who has experience with LGBTQ issues? One who treats trauma, or has experience treating specific diagnoses: e.g. anxiety, depression addictions? Couples and families? You can look for this information on therapist websites or profiles, or ask them about it in an intake or consult.
- Do you have preferences for the age, gender, ethnicity or religious background of your counsellor?
Counselling is a personal process, so you need to feel completely comfortable. As a consumer, you’re allowed to discriminate based on whatever criteria you need to feel safe. If you go through an intake process at a counselling centre, they will often ask if you have a preference for male or female, does their age matter, do you feel comfortable working with a student (who is supervised under a professional)? If you want to work with someone who ascribes to a certain religious group or background, you can request it, or search in non-traditional areas for a practitioner. For example, many faith communities provide counselling for their members.
Oftentimes with professionals we have to find a way to fit into their schedule. But remember, you’re the customer. Do you need:
- availability at a certain time of day?
- in person sessions only?
- online/telephone options?
- to be in a certain space for your sessions, e.g. your home, or away from your home?
- Public transit access?
- wheelchair or other accommodations?
- Home visits?
Don’t be afraid to shop around to meet your needs. If you’re always frustrated about paying for parking, it’s likely to affect your overall counselling experience in a negative way. Finding a good therapist is a personal experience. The right fit is going to be with someone who is unique to you and your circumstances.