If you are looking for a counsellor, I’d love to help you find one that’s just right for you. But before I do, I just want to say, good on you for taking care of your mental health and being brave enough to admit to yourself that you need help – everyone does from time to time, there’s no shame in it (or at least there shouldn’t be.) So, to the point: there are many places you can look for a counsellor such as:
Full disclosure – these are the three directories I use to advertise my practice – I chose them because they came highly recommended by senior colleagues and teachers. Others are available.
Google – is there anything we can’t Google these days? Nothing beats a good click around on a reliable search engine. See what turns up, and how you feel about what you find.
Social Media can be a goldmine of information – many counsellors can also be found on social media these days – you might see adverts for counsellors along your timeline on Facebook, on Instagram and you may become familiar with some counsellor’s Twitter accounts too. What can be good about this is that you get a chance to find out a bit in advance what your counsellor is like – what do they post, are you engaged by their turn of phrase, do their posts or Tweets inform, educate or uplift you?
Personal recommendations can be good – if you know someone who has felt comfortable telling you about their experience of therapy, why not ask them who they saw and if they would recommend them?
Professional recommendations such as those you might get from your GP can also be useful. If you’re happy to discuss the prospect of going into the counselling with others (and it’s ok if you’re not,) you can quickly find out if there are few good prospects in your local area.
Location, Location Location!
Before you start looking you may want to have a think about where you want your counsellor to be. Do you prefer to go for counselling at an organisation with a range of counsellors you could see or to choose an individual counsellor? Would you be more comfortable attending sessions in a commercial office, or are you happy being seen in a private house or purpose-built garden room? Would you prefer to reduce the chances of running into your counsellor in your local pub or supermarket (I once met my counsellor in my swimming lane!) by going out of your immediate area or are you not phased by the possibility of bumping into each other from time to time? Location can also tie in with planning the timing of your session – if you work in a big city but live in the suburbs, you might want to find a counsellor who is near you office and go before work, during your lunch hour or before you go home. However if you are waiting for your partner to get home to watch the kids so you can go to your session; if you want to plan your session to coincide with when your kids are at school or if you work from home, finding a counsellor who lives nearby might be more convenient.
Initial Assessment – First impressions count
Ok, so maybe you’ve clicked about, or made some calls, or had some conversations with friends and family and you’ve picked out a counsellor to contact – or maybe a few different counsellors, there’s no harm in interviewing a few. What happens next? The next thing to is usually some kind of initial chat or session, some are free and some cost money, so it’s worth asking when you get in touch, so you don’t have any nasty surprises later.
I offer every new client the opportunity to have a free 20 – 30 minutes with me, either on the phone, face to face over FaceTime / Skype or Zoom, or in person at my therapy rooms in St Albans, Herts. This is so they can get a sense of me, what I’m like, how I work and whether or not I am someone they feel they could talk to about difficult, private feelings and situations.
Why do I offer a free initial consultation? Well, the way I see it, no counsellor is going to be right for everyone and it has always seemed important to me that people have the opportunity to suss out a prospective counsellor before parting with their money. Most people who come for their free initial chat go on to work with me, and on the rare occasions when the chemistry doesn’t seem quite right, I have many skilled and wonderful counselling colleagues to whom I can refer people – no harm, no foul. I really love to support people, whether that’s by working with them therapeutically or by sign-posting them to the more appropriate mental health resources. depending on their needs.
Why am I making such a big thing of this initial chat, you may wonder? Well, it’s because studies show that the relationship you develop with your counsellor is one of the most important factors in predicting whether or not your counselling will be a positive, effective experience, more important that their mode (what kind of therapy they have trained in,) or how flashy their therapy rooms are, or how much they charge – so I strongly advise you to make sure you feel comfortable with your counsellor to give yourself the best possible chance of getting the most from your time in therapy.
What to look out for in a counsellor?
Do they seem interested in you?
Do they want to know about your mental health history, medications, previous counselling experience etc?
Do they listen or do they seem more interested in the sound of their own voice?
Do they answer your questions openly or do they seem evasive?
Do you feel under pressure to ‘sign up’ or are they encouraging you to take your time?
Do they seem passionate about their work or do you feel like they’re ‘dialling it in’?
These are just some ideas for things to look out for as you go through an initial chat/session. What you want from counselling might be a little different to what someone else might want, so maybe have a think about it and see how you feel about the counsellors you meet.
What do I need to know about my counsellor?
Although it is important that you feel comfortable with your counsellor, practical details are important too. Whether you’re going for a free, informal chat or a full, paid assessment session, it might be worth having a think about what you’d like to know before you decide whether or not to go ahead with counselling with the person in question.
Training, Experience & Qualifications? I would want to know how experienced my counsellor was, where they trained and how long they trained for – I would want to know this because counselling is still not a very well regulated profession and there are some individuals who do an online course or a weekend’s Introduction to Counselling Course and then set themselves up as counsellors. I would want to screen those guys out almost immediately – they are not ready to work with clients and they are unlikely to be able to help you.
How much is a session? I charge £50 per session – depending on where you are in the country, how much experience your counsellor has and many other factors, the figure your counsellor gives you may be more or less than this. Either way, it’s important to make sure this is a figure you can afford. A bit of searching on the aforementioned directories will give you a sense of the going rate in your area, which can help you decide what seems reasonable.
How long is a session? I, along with most of the counsellors that I know, offer sessions that are 50 minutes or one therapeutic hour.
How do I pay? Some counsellors deal in cash, many prefer to take bank transfers, some may have card machines – it’s always good to be prepared.
Cancellation, Holidays & Missed Session Policies? Counsellors have their own policies about these issues, it’s useful to find out what a prospective counsellor’s approach is to these in advance. Some counsellors are willing to re-arrange sessions to suit you, others don’t work that way. Most counsellors don’t charge if they are not available to work due to holiday or personal illness etc.
How much counselling do I need? Some counsellors do short term work (6 – 8 sessions,) some will do mid term work (20 – 30 sessions) and some will do open-ended or long-term work (where no end date is specified.) If you are not sure what you need on that score, talk to the counsellor about what they offer, why they offer that, and see if you can determine if it sounds like something you’d like to try. I work short term, mid term and long term, and find that some people like to start with short term, to ‘dip their toe in counselling waters’ before committing to a longer piece of work – others come sure that they are in it for the long-haul and settle right into 30 weeks or open-ended.
My personal view is that while it is helpful to have an idea of how long we will be working together, (it helps to set a focus,) it’s my job to eventually make myself redundant, (rather than hold onto people for as long as possible,) and how long that will take isn’t always clear at the beginning. I have clients I have worked with for years, who are taking all the time they need to work through long-standing issues. Other clients, usually those who have relatively few or no previous mental health issues, find that six weeks is perfect for them to stop a downward spiral into depression or anxiety.
Paperwork? Some counsellors do not use contracts and some do – I do, and I like to talk through this contract so that both myself and my client understand what we can expect from one another. So it might be a plan to ask your counsellor for a copy of their contract and any other paper work they may ask you to fill in. Don’t be afraid to ask how they use and store your information – we are all subject to the demands of GDPR and it’s in your interests to know that your confidentiality and personal information is being held securely and competently.
Specialisms? You may want to go to a counsellor who has a special interest in one particular issue (such as Trauma work or Alcoholism,) or you may not be sure what your underlying issue is, and may not feel the need.
I hope this has been helpful? If I’ve left anything out, of if you have any questions, do get in touch and I’ll see if I can add anything.