If you would rather watch/listen than read, you can watch the video below.
Often when people decided that they want a counselor, they look online, find a counselor, call them to make an appointment, and then they go, assuming that now their life is going to be great.
Then they go to a counseling session or two, and it sucks, and they're crushed because they reach out and, in their mind, it didn't work. So then they'll close themselves back off and they might not try again, at least for a while, and that breaks my heart because that's not the way that it needs to be.
Since it's the beginning of the new year, I thought that we would talk a little bit about finding a counselor because that might be something on your to-do list or things that you're considering as you go into 2021 - What could build into your life? Who could make your life better?
I guarantee you the trauma counselor that I had a few years ago saved my life. I am a huge fan of trauma counseling! But there is more to talk about here.
For starters, when you're looking for a counselor, you're shopping. They are not one size fits all. There are some very different counselors out there!
A few very important things to consider:
1. They have different personalities, different backgrounds, and different experiences. All of those things are going to play into how they're going to be able to help you and how they're not.
2. You have a unique personality. For example, me and my best friend are completely different when it comes to counselors. I need a counselor that will talk to me about their life experiences and they need to have had experiences that I've had so that I can relate to them to some extent.
Otherwise, I can't open up to them because I don't want to open up to somebody who doesn't understand me. I worry that they might judge me. I worry that...blah blah blah.
My best friend, on the other hand, does not want to know anything personal about her counselor. She wants her counselor to be 100% professional. She wants to go to counseling, do the dang thing, and then get out. She wants a service and the connection that I need makes her uncomfortable.
Likewise, I wouldn't be comfortable with the kind of person that she wants. It wouldn't work for me. I'd probably feel like they were mean. I would feel like "That person is a jerk! I'm not going back." So you need to be aware of your personality. What do you want? What do you need?
3. Do you want a male or a female counselor? That's important, especially if you're going to trauma therapy because of sexual abuse-related stuff!
For example, if your abuser male, regardless of what sex you are, you might not want a male counselor.
If you're a male, and you are abused by a male, you might not want to go open up and bare your soul to a male, but it might be more comfortable for it to be a female or vice versa.
On the other hand, maybe you have an extremely controlling, toxic mother who has messed up your world. Maybe you want to talk to a guy.
Alternatively, I want my son to see a male counselor. He has seen female counselors in the past, but now he's a teenager and he needs a male voice in his life. He needs the male perspective. I can't give him that and a female counselor can't give him that. So that's important. People want to argue that the sexes are equal and there's nothing different about them, but I disagree.
We are equal. We're equally important, but we're different and that's both important and valuable.
So, where you're at right now, what do you think would be most beneficial to you, a male or a female counselor?
4. What about religious beliefs and perspectives? Another thing to consider is their religious beliefs and your religious beliefs. Are you going to be okay with going to a counselor that has different beliefs than you? Because their belief system is naturally going to shape the way they counsel you - it's where they're getting their life wisdom from. So do you want life wisdom from this perspective or from that perspective?
The last counselor that I saw had a different spiritual perspective than I did and that limited what we could do because there were things that we didn't agree on. We agreed to disagree and we were able to work through the majority of stuff and that's fine.
The counselor that I just started with on the other hand, has the same spiritual beliefs that I do and so she can counsel me out of that perspective, which is now really important to me.
So having the same spiritual beliefs as the counselor is not necessary. I was able to do good work before, but it's something to consider.
Here are a few of the common suggestions that I see out there and what I think of them.
1. Get referrals. Yes, if you happen to know people who have gone to this counselor and they think that they're good, that's awesome. But keep in mind that just because that counselor was good for your friend doesn't mean they're going to be good for you. And if they didn't like someone, it doesn't mean that they're a bad counselor. Maybe they just weren't a good fit for them?
* Remember that in looking for a counselor you are shopping. You don't need to settle for the first one you put in your cart.
2. Research the counselor's credentials. I would definitely do this! I mean, this is the age of the internet, we have that ability. You can look these people up and you can see what kind of topics they counsel on. You can often see what kind of training they have and that's important, especially if you're dealing with trauma. A lot of times you can also see what their counseling approach is - CBT is different from Psychodynamic Counseling which is different from Constructionist Therapy.
If you go to like the website of a counseling service, it'll list the counselors that are there and if you click on them it'll give you information about the types of things that they counsel on like divorce, children, teenagers, trauma, different things like that and then sometimes they'll also tell you a little bit about themselves so that maybe you can look for a couple of things that you might be able to connect with that information to use.
What I look for when I'm researching a counselor:
1. Does this person have trauma therapy experience?
2. If they have trauma therapy experience, what kinds of trauma therapy?
3. What is their counseling approach?
Some counselors will focus a lot on your past for example and they feel like the only way to fix what's going on right now is to focus on the stuff that happened before. Other types of counselors focus on the way you think, on your belief systems. Some will try to figure out where those belief systems came from. Others could care less where they came from. They just want to focus on what's going on right now. They'll likely focus on your beliefs right now, what of them are bad for you, and how to change them. Other counselors will focus on your behavior right now. - What are you doing right now, okay? What can we change right now? Let's just be practical in this.
I'm not going to say at this point that any of the approaches are right or wrong. I have preferences, but you just kind of need to be aware that those are things.
What are your beliefs? Do you believe that everything that is in your life right now is a result of the past and that figuring out the why to what's going on right now is super important? Or do you care less about why and more about changing it? Different things are important to different people.
This is part of why shopping for counselors is important because the likelihood of you finding the right one the first time is not great. It might happen for some people, it does happen, but I fear that you will not find the right one the first time and you're gonna give up. Please don't do that!
3. Another thing to consider maybe is their age. Are you going to feel comfortable going to somebody for life wisdom who is 10 years younger than you and just out of college? That's something to consider. Maybe it doesn't bug you at all.
4. Consider the counselors experience. Have they been counseling for 30 years or did they start 2 months ago?
5. What is their communication style? I honestly don't know how you could evaluate their communication style until you're seeing them. That'd be more like a you hire a counselor and try them out a couple of times and see what you think situation.
Do you guys jive well or mesh well or whatever you want to call it?
Do you like the way that they talk to you?
Do you feel like they respect you?
Do you feel like they talk down to you?
Are they too book smart and not street smart?
You know there are different things that you can only figure out when you're there too. You're still shopping, okay? You don't have to buy it and stay with it because you go in the door one time.
There are different jobs that will give you a few free counseling sessions a year. Those types of things are good for trial periods. Try the counselor out and see what you think of them.
6. Read patient reviews. If they have patient reviews, you can read them. Some people might leave reviews. Counseling is one of those things where it's kind of iffy. Probably they're more likely to leave negative reviews because they want to warn people off if they have had a really bad experience. But if they've had a good experience, do they want everybody to know that they were in counseling for whatever? It's vulnerable!
So if someone is trying to spare people pain it might be worth that putting yourself out there, but if not, they may or may not put something up online. I am much more likely to talk to people and be like yeah I recommend this counselor versus putting it up online. So take that as you will.
7. Know what your insurance covers. That's important! Do you have insurance at all? There are a lot of things that state and federal assistance like Medicaid and Medicare are going to cover that other insurance might not. Do you know what your deductible is?
If you don't have insurance then a lot of times it'll say on their website, but you might need to call and find out, if they offer a sliding scale fee. A sliding scale fee is income-based. So where they might charge $200 for a session, you might pay $25 or $50 or whatever for a session. (If you're dealing with trauma, it's worth it to try to figure it out.)
If you don't have insurance and you can't afford even a sliding scale fee, maybe you consider going to a church and having a pastor or somebody on staff talk with you. Some churches offer free counseling, so that's an option too.
I would also recommend, and I'd like to do a video on it, Al-anon as a free option. It is not counseling. It's a support group. But you can go and just listen. And if you stay there long enough, Al-anon will teach you how to love yourself - with people around you, that also are struggling with that. And hopefully, you guys will be there to support one another as you're figuring that out. That's a really good first step if you can't afford anything else. I recommend it and a lot of times.
Wrapping It Up
So just to recap real quick, don't settle when it comes to choosing your counselor.
Think about who you might want to counsel you. You have options. Most people in America have options. Do you want a male counselor? Do you want a female? Do you want someone who is young or old? How do you want them to relate to you?
Think about those things. Think about who you are and who they might need to be in order to do you any good, before you get started on this so that you can shop better. Just like you would want to know what kind of fabric that you like before you go shop for sheets or something like that.
You can check them out online.
Try them out in a session or three. Get a feel for them. Decide whether or not they're gonna work out for you and then don't be afraid to walk away and go to the next one. "Thank you for your time, this isn't a good fit." You know? "Best wishes! I'm out." That's, okay.
It's really hard for people that have dealt with a lot of abuse to voice their needs and their wants and so it can be hard to say "You aren't a good fit for me. I'm gonna go somewhere else." I know it can be hard but it's okay. They're not going to be hurt. They're not going to be offended. If they're a good counselor, they're going to know that studies have proven that the connection between counselor and client is the most important thing for counseling success. If they're worth a hoot as a counselor, they're going to understand, and if they aren't then you just saved yourself some trouble! ;)
Obviously you're going to have to pay or insurance is going to pay for the counseling session, but shop, don't settle.
I wish you the best in 2021 and I look forward to doing it with you! If you have suggestions or things that you want for me to talk about, let me know. I got some really good suggestions earlier, but I am trying to plan for this year so I would love to hear from you! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll see what we can get accomplished because it's my goal to serve you! What do you need to hear? What do you need to know about? How can I build into your life in 2021?