Choosing a Counselor
January is upon us. The month in which gym memberships spike and therapists’ phones ring off the hook as people set about recovering from the holidays and look forward to embracing change in the New Year. Here are a few thoughts on choosing a counselor.
Ask someone you trust for a referral. Whether you ask a friend, family member, pastor, or physician, having a personal referral can help narrow the field of possibilities.
Do your research. Many counselors now have a presence on the web. Check out websites, blogs, and articles to help find prospects before hitting the phone.
Location isn’t everything but it can be important. Scrambling through rush hour traffic or frantically searching for parking to make an appointment probably isn’t the best way to lead up to a counseling session.
Check your benefits. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a counselor you like only to learn that they are not an approved provider for your plan. In some cases it may be worth using an out of network provider or simply paying out-of-pocket. If you have a health savings account, the cost of counseling can often be reimbursed. See my blog on affordable counseling for more cost saving ideas.
Make a list of questions to ask prior to making an initial phone call. Anxiety related to that first call can make it hard to remember everything you want to ask. Keep that paper and a pen close by for reference and note taking. Possible questions might include:
How long have you been in practice?
Do you have a specialty?
Do you have experience with ______?
What is your opinion about medication and mental health treatment?
Do you take insurance?
When is payment due?
What forms of payment are accepted?
How is contact handled between sessions?
What is your policy on cancellations or rescheduled appointments?
Be prepared for the initial appointment. Plan to arrive a few minutes early to fill out paperwork and be sure to take your insurance card and form of payment. If you’re anxious about the appointment, do a drive-by the day before to familiarize yourself with the route and location.
Choosing a counselor can be an intimidating task. Research suggests that selecting a counselor who is a good fit has a more significant impact on success than the counselor’s degree, licensure, or theoretical orientation. What constitutes a good fit is a difficult thing to measure and often comes down to initially trusting your instincts. If it’s not a good fit explain why and ask for a referral. A competent counselor will be happy to provide one.