It takes a lot of courage to see a counselor. You are ready to make some changes or you want to understand yourself better. Finding a good fit with a counselor requires some exploration of what you want and where to find it.

Below are some questions to ask yourself and your prospective counselor when choosing a therapist. You can save time and money by asking plenty of questions before you start working with someone new.

What style of therapy are you looking for? Many people are looking for some combination of a person who helps them feel better about themselves and someone who challenges them to grow. There are many approaches to therapy, ask about their style and philosophy.

What do you need?  It helps to have a flexible counselor who has a sense of what is needed.  It is also important practice to ask for what you need.

What do they think helps people change?  Before you begin working with someone, I encourage you to ask a few therapists about their background, politics, education, experience – anything you think that could be relevant to what you are looking to do together.

It is much easier to ask these questions before beginning to work with someone. It also helps to write down your questions and have them with you at their office or while you are on the phone. It helps you remember the questions during the conversation, and it can give you a little added confidence.

Ask yourself a few questions, also. What can you afford? Be realistic about your budget. If you cannot afford the counselor’s rate, ask if they are willing to lower it. They may not be able to meet it, but a good counselor should be willing to give you the name of someone who can.

Who are you?  What does the counselor understand? It may be helpful for you to have a counselor that shares some of the same identities as you do. It could also be very difficult. Of course, you want to avoid someone who you feel has a bias against or confusion about any of your identities. These biases may show up in overt ways, like not recognizing your sexuality, or subtle ways, like physical accessibility or off-handed comments. Your whole self deserves to be treated with excellence. Accept nothing less.

Cultural competence is a way a counselor can understand your identities as a part of providing you the service you deserve. Cultural competence can begin with being willing to make mistakes, learn more about the history of a particular group, and build relationships.

Another important component of getting what you need is finding a counselor who can hear you say that you need something specific or that they made an ignorant comment – without being defensive. However, all counselors will make mistakes and say things that hurt your feelings, trigger you, or make you angry. Bring it to their attention. Talk it through. If you and the counselor can’t come to an understanding together, you may need to move on.

Ask yourself a few questions once you meet a prospective counselor: Do you like this person? Do you feel comfortable? Sometimes, unlikely therapeutic bonds just work. Beyond the credentials and the details, there is just what some call ‘goodness of fit’. If it works, don’t over-think it. Get what you need in order to learn and grow. Also, counseling relationships are not necessarily meant to last forever. You may need one therapist to get you through a particularly hard time. Or you may want to work with a person for one kind of issue, and another person for a different issue. Or you may need different fits for different phases of your life.

What about trust? Trust takes a long time to build. Trust is formed after an ongoing demonstration of a person being both willing and capable of showing up in the way you need. It takes a long time to build, but can be broken in a moment. There is an assumption that you are supposed to trust a counselor. Make us earn your trust.

Most importantly, trust yourself. If anything feels weird or “off” during the initial conversation, pay attention. Talk about it with people you do trust and get their feedback. It is worthwhile to take it slow. You do not have to settle for less than what you need. If anyone promises quick results, everlasting happiness or the end of anger-run the other way!  This work is beautiful, can heal your heart, blow your mind, and can be extremely awarding. But no one can promise you it will be easy.

Best of luck in your endeavors. Please call me for a free consultation if you think I might be a good fit for what you need.

Mara