How to Choose a Great Therapist or Counselor

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There are a ton of therapists and counselors in Orange County for you to scour the Internet for, so how do you find a GREAT one? I recommend you ask some questions in order to assess. This short article lists just a few helpful questions, in no particular order (please note, the terms “therapist” and “counselor” are used interchangeably).

1. What were they like the first time you reached out to them?

Were they warm, informative and open to answering any of your questions? Did they work to provide you with fees and a schedule that worked for you or provide you with resources that better met your needs? Your first interaction with a therapist is an indication of how it will be to work with them. Therapists are not “one size fits all” so if you sensed a disconnection it’s probably safe to say they did too. Thank them for their time and move on.

2. How did you feel when talking and meeting with the therapist?

Did you feel comfortable sharing? Did they use language that was free of judgment and criticism while providing support or was there a sense of shame and embarrassment when you shared? A therapist’s job is to create an emotionally safe environment for you to talk about whatever it is you feel you want help with and if that’s not the case, it’s time to move on.

3. Can the therapist tell you how they plan to work with you to meet your goals?

A question to ask is “Have you worked with ______ (ie: couples and infidelity; anxiety; feeling like I have no direction, etc.) before?” Followed with, “And what are some of the ways that you have helped people like me?” If you get a clear answer, even one that you don’t really understand (ie: “I utilize a structured technique called Gottman Method Couples Therapy that has 35+ years of research to prove it’s success.”) and it’s followed by, “And I’d love to meet with you and hear more about what’s going on so we can work together to decide a course of treatment,” then you’re probably in good, competent hands.

4. What is the counselor’s general philosophy or modality when working with people?

Counselors all have a specific philosophy when working with people and should be able to clearly and concisely share that with you. It may sound something like “I am a solution-focused therapist, which means I focus on identifying your strengths, looking at times when your problems is not as intense, and helping you find solutions that line up with your goals.”

5. Is the therapist licensed or are they an intern? 

A licensed therapist has completed their master’s degree in psychology, social work or marriage and family therapy, worked as an intern to gain 2,500-3,500 hours, and successfully passed their state board licensing exams (which are not easy). An intern is someone who has gained their master’s degree in the above-mentioned fields but is currently working on gaining their hours and often times are less expensive than licensed clinicians. There are phenomenal interns providing quality therapy services and it’s up to you to decide what level of professional works for you.

6. Does the counselor specialize in any treatment type or do they “help everyone?”

If you’re looking for help for your marriage, find someone who specializes in working with couples. It doesn’t make sense to go to a therapist who specializes in working with adults battling with anxiety, if you're looking for grief and loss support due a recent death in the family. Find a therapist who specializes in what you want help with.

7. What is the counselor’s social media policy?

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, the list goes on and on and in a world where most professionals have an online presence, it’s imperative that you know your therapist’s social media policy. Most counselors discourage clients from providing any sort of online reviews or testimonials as it breaks your own confidentiality and tells the world that you’re seeing a therapist. Also, it’s part of a counselor’s ethical duty to not engage in any sort of relationship with a client outside of the therapeutic one, so “friending” them on social media would be a no-no. It is quite alright to “like” their social media pages, as they typically host articles and tips appropriate for clients but choose wisely before commenting and identifying yourself publicly.

8. Have there been any complaints filed with the board against the therapist?

Find out who their governing board is (ie: American Psychological Association, Board of Behavioral Sciences, etc.) and look up their status. This is simple, as you can search by their license or intern number, which should be clearly stated somewhere on the their website, business card or email signature. If there were any complaints, have they been resolved? Are their licenses pending? 

I hope this has been helpful I know that searching for a therapist can be daunting when you're not sure what to ask and what sets GREAT therapists apart from everyone else. 

Leave a comment below and share your questions about how to choose a GREAT therapist or counselor.

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Miranda Palmer

I have successfully built a cash pay psychotherapy practice from scratch on a shoestring budget. I have also failed a licensed exam by 1 point (only to have the licensing board send me a later months later saying I passed), started an online study group to ease my own isolation and have now reached thousands of therapists across the country, helped other therapists market their psychotherapy practices, and helped awesome business owners move from close to closing their doors, to being profitable in less than 6 weeks. I've failed at launching online programs. I've had wild success at launching online programs. I've made mistakes in private practice I've taught others how to avoid my mistakes. You can do this. You were called to this work. Now- go do it! Find some help or inspiration as you need it- but do the work!