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How to Choose a Counselor

How to Choose a Counselor

a quick story about trust

If you’ve ever been scuba diving, you know that before they let you loose in the open sea with only a tank of air and underwater camera, you have to prove you’re somewhat capable of breathing underwater in a mock-scuba environment… like a swimming pool.
Well there I was, listening to a guy who was maybe 21 and clearly spent half his days surfing and the other half teaching tourists how to not panic and swim straight to the surface (which is a no-no in scuba diving).
This guy was ah-mazing. He pretty much beat me to the punch on every worry I had. He said things like, “If THIS happens, then you do this hand signal, and I will fix the problem.” And he said it repeatedly. I felt soooo much better.
Then I totally aced the pool-diving part. 

i’m with you so far…then what?

A few hours later (we were scheduled for the afternoon dive), we arrive at the boat. Scuba Coach Guy is walking off and explains that our dive guide will be there shortly.
Say what?
Enter stage left, the coolest and most fit woman I’ve ever seen in real life. Gorgeous accent and all.
She was so full of energy and pumped about us getting into our suits and into the water and down to the sea floor and getting all the photos and having the BEST scuba experience ever.
I was so overwhelmed I’m still surprised I didn’t puke right there in front of her.
Long story short(er), with maybe one inch of water above my head, I was giving the “I need to go to the surface” hand signal ….. (side note: yes, I totally could have safely popped my head right up to the life-giving oxygen an inch above… but Scuba Coach Guy had assured me that the hand signals were uber important! #rulefollower)
She tried to run me through all the “try and pop your ears to relieve the pressure” signals, but there was no changing my mind.
I was scared.
I wanted out.

so what went wrong?

Surfer Coach Guy had repeatedly assured me he understood the things that scared me. He told me over and over again that he had a plan to get me through anything the ocean might throw my way.
I trusted him. I felt connected. I felt like he got me (in an I know this is new and intimidating for you but I promise I’m looking out for your best interest kinda way)
This girl? Nope.
No way was I trusting her with looking out for me or making sure I felt comfortable. She was clearly more interested in convincing us to pay the extra fee for the underwater pics she was going to take for us.
I spent the excursion sitting on the boat with the captain and my friend who had also called it quits at the last second.

I assume there’s a connection to therapy in this story?

Feeling like someone “gets” you. If you’re sitting across from the world’s most renowned specialist in treating xyz, and all you can think is but can I trust you with the actual truth of my deepest and darkest?, then you’ll likely end up stuck.
The importance of a good connection can accidentally be overlooked when you first reach out. 
That means it can also be easy to spend unneccessary amounts of money on a therapist who came highly recommeded, but wasn’t really a good fit for you.
When you begin the search for a counselor, I encourage you to consider the importance of finding someone who helps you feel heard.
It’s tempting to jump online, find someone close by who takes your insurance, and book the first available appointment.
I’m not knocking that strategy.
I’m saying it can be easy to go that route and spend money on months of therapy, only to realize you don’t feel like your counselor really gets you.

what do I need to do to find the right counselor?

Whether you’re going the insurance route or the private pay route (paying out of pocket without going through insurance), I encourage you to do a few things before you make the decision to choose a particular counselor:
  • Check out the websites of your prospective counselors…look for information on any specialty areas, read the “about me” pages, browse any blog posts… all of these will give you a better picture of who this counselor is and who she (or he) serves best.
  • Ask if there’s a free phone consultationA phone call is an opportunity to speak to him or her and see how comfortable you feel. Ask any questions about charges, scheduling, hours of availability, familiarity with your concerns, etc.
  • Remember that as tempting as it is to price shop, your goal is healing, and going with the cheapest option can’t guarantee a healing relationship (that being said, it doesn’t rule it out, either…which is why these points are key!).
  • If you’re seeking services for your child, inquire about communication and updates between the counselor and you, the parent. It can feel mysterious to send your child back to the office while you wait in the lobby, then leave without any idea as to how things are going. Different counselors handle it different ways.
  • If you’re comfortable sharing any details with friends, ask around for referrals…but keep in mind that just because your friend LOVED her experience with a certain therapist doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one for you.
The decision to enter into therapy often comes at a time when you are feeling overwhelmed and out of ideas. It can be tempting to jump into a therapeutic relationship with the most convenient or cheapest therapist.
Sometimes, you get lucky, and it’s a perfect match! But don’t be afraid to advocate for what helps you to feel comfortable.
You’re going to be sharing some of your most vulnerable self with your therapist. Trust and feeling like she gets you are key to healing.
If you’re unsure whether a certain therapist is right for you, it’s okay to give it a few sessions to see… sometimes it takes time to develop that trusting relationship. And if you’ve done your homework (see above bullet points), then it might be worth allowing yourself the time to grow comfortable.
In therapy, it’s never wrong to give the “I need to go to the surface” hand signal and look for someone who totally gets you.
After all, this is your life… not the scuba guide’s.

find a therapist

At The Joy Effect, we have multiple therapists available to help with a variety of concerns.

You can read about each individual therapist below, or scroll farther to look for help with your specific concern.

Carolyn Robistow | Carla Litzsey