Let’s be real: most people really don’t want to go see a counselor. I joke with my clients that it can be less nerve wracking to see a dentist or a gynecologist than it is to come see me. 🙂 While I work hard to make this process as easy as it can be, I get that most people are nervous when they first walk in the door.
To help you get the most from therapy, I’m going to share the list of tips that I give to my friends when they call me up and ask me how to choose a counselor.
Personality and Interaction Style
When I invite my clients back to my office, I often tell them, “Let’s go have some fun!” Usually the first time they hear me say that, they scrunch up their eyebrows. But once they see me put my feet in my chair and see how casual it feels, they get what I mean.
Research has shown us over and over again that your connection to your chosen therapist is essential to your outcomes. It’s even more important than the type of approach they take with you. If you feel like you can’t be yourself around your counselor, then it can prevent you from sharing the necessary details they need to be helpful to you. Personality fit is important to your progress.
Some clinicians are more formal and others are more laid back. Both are fine. But you may have a preference. So think about which you are more comfortable with and look for that part of them to be apparent on their websites or in their online profiles.
Things to consider include:
- Language: Do you want to be able to freely use all kinds of words? Is this someone with whom you can share freely? Do you want to be able to let out an occasional four-letter word?
- Faith: Do you want your sessions to have a strong faith focus? Should your counseling sessions compliment your faith, while letting your minister focus on what he does best?
- Age: Do you want someone close to your age? Would you feel more comfortable with someone who is older than you?
- Culture: Would it be easier on you to share with someone else who can relate to military life? Do you need someone who’s familiar with Indian families? Is it important to have someone who has a focus on divorced families?
Appearance encompasses a lot, so we’re going to break it down bit by bit. First up is fashion style. In my office, I tell everyone up front that I don’t like to wear shoes. You will find my flip flops beside my chair, and I often greet my clients in the waiting room with bare feet (even if I’m wearing a dress). That’s just how I feel comfortable. I believe if I’m at ease, then my clients will be at ease, too.
You may prefer someone who wears a suit and tie or who dresses more formally. There’s nothing wrong with that. As silly as it may sound, the appearance of your therapist will help you to feel more confident in your work with them. So try to visit their websites or other online profiles in places like Psychology Today or Good Therapy, to see what info you can glean from their photo.
Another aspect of appearance is the office. Do you prefer something that looks homey, with lamps and soft lighting? Are you looking for a small office, with only one or two clinicians sharing the space- giving you more privacy and a greater sense of calm? Or do you want a large office setting with a full-time receptionist to greet you?
From the letters behind your counselor’s name to the techniques they pull from to help you, each therapist has their own style. Formally, we call this the “theory of change” that we operate from. In graduate school, all aspiring mental health practitioners learn the theories that relate to their disciplines. There are some theories that most all mental health fields learn, and others that relate specifically to each one. Marriage and family therapists learn things that are different from social workers and professional counselors.
Many online therapy directories will allow clinicians to list their preferences. You may see things like cognitive-behavioral (CBT), dialectical behavioral (DBT), emotionally focused (EFT), or family systems.
You can always ask your counselor to explain their approach to you. Or, if you see their approach listed on their website or online profiles, you can Google it to learn more.
Some offices schedule during normal business hours, like Monday-Friday 9-5. Others offer evening or weekend hours. Making sure up front that your counselor’s office hours match your needs will help ensure that you are able to continue together. It’s really hard when you find a clinician that you connect with, only to learn one or two sessions in that they don’t typically schedule during those times.
Save yourself a headache and check up front to make sure their availability matches you.
Cost and Insurance
Often the first thing interested clients ask me if what insurance I take. I get that cost can be an important factor when seeking this kind of support. We’re seeing a growing trend in mental health practitioners who are not on insurance panels for a variety of reasons. I happen to be one of them.
It used to be that clients would come in, and several weeks into therapy, they would receive a big bill from their insurance providers. Mental health was covered differently then, and I never wanted my clients to be taken back later by their insurance failing to come through. Now with the changes set out by the Affordable Care Act, deductibles are higher for many people. So even with health insurance, most clients have to pay out of pocket for many expenses. So I decided to stay off of the panels.
In order to bill insurance, you have to receive a mental health diagnosis. There’s nothing wrong with a diagnosis. That helps us know where to focus our efforts. You receive a diagnosis every time you go to the doctor’s office, too. However, with strep throat and the flu and many other diagnoses, they represent a certain time in your life. With mental health, it seems that if you are working to feel less depressed in 2016, they will assume that you are still depressed in 2020. I don’t operate from that belief system. And I feel it harms my clients.
Ask about cost and insurance up front. Those of us who aren’t on insurance panels often price our services lower as a way to compensate and show our appreciation to you. Most of us also offer what we call a “Superbill.” My clients can print those off in the secure client portal. It will have the necessary codes for your insurance provider and they can reimburse you according to your plan.
One thing I can say about not being on the insurance panels: instead of the insurance company being my client, YOU are my client. I work to make you happy, not a stranger on the other end of a phone line who tells me what you and I have to do and talk about. Many clients who work with counselors who are not on insurance panels report a better experience and higher results.
These are just a few things to keep in mind. You may have other traits that are important to you. Taking the time to find a good fit when you are starting out can save you a lot of time, money, and give you better success!