How do I chose the right counselor?

When people find out what I do for a living, it’s not uncommon for them to admit they are having difficulties in their personal life. When I suggest they go see a professional, they often express frustration and confusion with the process of finding a therapist and they want one that will help them produce the change they are looking for. To all those people I have met at airports, restaurants, charity events, and churches: here’s how I recommend you find the right counselor for you.

Research shows the most effective counseling works because of four things*:

1. The relationship with your therapist accounts for 30% of the effectiveness of counseling.
2. The method of treatment or techniques used account for 15% of the effectiveness of counseling.
3. Positive expectancy, which is your belief that you can get better, account for 15% of the effectiveness of counseling.
4. Extratherapeutic change accounts for 40% of the effectiveness of counseling. As a client, you come to therapy with a specific motivation, strength of character, psychological mindedness, ability to be insightful about your problem and events going on in your life, certain social support networks, and a diverse history. These are called extratherapeutic variables. The nature of some of these variables lead to effective therapy.

So if you want to find a counselor that works for you, focus on those four things. Do some thinking and introspection about what you need in each of those areas. What kind of therapist would be the easiest for me to build a relationship with? Some clients prefer someone with similar background or religious beliefs. Some feel as long as they feel unconditional acceptance from their therapist then demographics don’t matter.

There are some counseling techniques that are proven by research to be very effective, such as CBT, DBT, and EMDR. Find someone who is trained or certified in the therapeutic techniques you need. If you don’t know what you need, don’t be afraid to ask the counselor which techniques they use the most. Many counselors are trained in a technique, which means they have usually attended a class or two about the technique. Someone who is certified in a technique has not only taken classroom training, but has participated in intensive supervision while using the technique over the course of several years. Those who are certified are generally more versed and competent than those who are not.

Ask the counselor if they believe you can get better and have them explain why. A counselor who does not feel like you can recover may not be the best fit or may not have enough experience working with cases like yours.

Last, consider your own motivation and attitudes toward therapy. Are there things in your personality or environment that you can and do want to change? Make those known to the counselor you chose. Carefully consider what can be realistically influenced in those areas and what things you have no control over. If you have no control over them, neither does your therapist, but the two of you can learn to cope with them in positive ways.

* Research from the book The Heart and Soul of Change: What works in Therapy by Hubble, Duncan, & Miller. 

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