Finding the Right Counsellor: 7 Helpful Tips

Michelle Bentley

counsellor, decision making, therapy, well-being, mental health, goal setting

So you have decided you are ready to seek a change, tackle a tough decision, or perhaps find support to improve the way you are managing in your life. But how do you find a professional counsellor or therapist to help you on this journey? Who is the right match for your particular concerns or goals?

1. Find the Right Type of Counsellor

First, identify what kind of support you are looking for. Counsellors, psychotherapists, and life coaches each specialize in different concerns, clients, and focus and length of counselling. Spend some time considering your goals, whether you want in-person or online support, and what gender you would be more comfortable speaking with.

2. Ask for Recommendations

Start by asking family and friends. Someone you know may be able to refer you to a professional they found helpful. If your focus is different than that of your friend, such as family counselling rather than teen issues, or individual goals rather than couples therapy, you may still want to call up their referral and ask for a recommendation for someone who does offer what you’re looking for.

3. Check Local Resources

If no one is able to supply a reference, you may want to check local resources, such as a local community information link or community centre, your own worship community, or an agency with which you have a connection (e.g., workplace employee assistance or human resources, cultural community, school, or a special interest group).

4. Look Online

You may also want to check online or look at other advertising venues. There are many websites and professional association directories on which professionals advertise themselves. You will need to review profiles and look for who fits your goals, including whether they are short or long-term, and whether they work with specific issues like addictions, grief, or trauma. Consider who fits your preferred approach, such as cognitive (thoughts), emotional (feelings and relationships), life coach (specific, actionable goals), or creative (using art, music, drama, or meditation).

5. Contact a Counsellor

Once you have your choices narrowed down to a few professionals who fit your situation and seem approachable, contact them directly. This is when some people find a stumbling block. Remind yourself that these professionals are there to support people and have likely worked with situations very similar to your own. If you are speaking with an agency intake worker, their job is to match you with a counsellor who is suited to your needs. If you phone rather than email, this gives you a chance to hear the person’s voice and manner in order to get a sense of whether or not they would be a good fit.

6. Interview the Counsellor

Now is your opportunity to interview the professionals you are considering. It is your right to ask questions to help both of you determine if this is a good match.

  • Has the counsellor worked with people with similar issues to yours? Check if they are comfortable and have expertise working with whatever situation is bringing you to counselling.
  • What are the counsellor’s credentials or licensing? (Regional requirements vary.) This will give you a better idea of the expertise they have to offer. Have they had any complaints registered against them, and if so, how have these been resolved?
  • What are their fees or sliding scale (reduced fees for those with limited finances or no insurance)? If you have limited financial means, consider contacting a community centre, medical clinic, or counselling training program where supervised trainees work at a low rate.
  • Does the counsellor invite feedback, provide information on boundaries, set guidelines on each of your responsibilities, and explain confidentiality? One particular responsibility for counselling professionals is to avoid dual relationships so that, as a client, you are not also their friend, family member, employer, or employee – although small communities may have exceptions. Counsellors have a duty to prevent harm and should outline to you when they would need to breach confidentiality to support someone at risk or those who are in specific legal situations.
    • What is the counsellor’s style? Is most of the process expected to happen in session, or will they recommend homework or resources? Will they combine approaches or follow a specific therapy? There are many ways to approach any concern, and you may not know specifically what you are looking for. However, you can ask questions to get a sense of whether their approach suits your needs and personality. If you are someone who enjoys structure and guidelines, you are unlikely to feel comfortable with a creative art therapist, and conversely a creative person may not feel well matched with agendas and homework – unless perhaps you are seeking a really new approach to your concerns!

7. Use Your Intuition

Finally, since the relationship is most important, be sure to tune in to your reactions on the phone and in your first meeting. A therapist with impressive credentials, speaking engagements, or publishing credits may still not be the right fit for you. Do expect it may take more than one session to feel comfortable rather than awkward, especially since information-gathering is likely the early focus. Counselling professionals usually have developed interpersonal skills including acceptance and empathy, so pay attention to whether you feel comfortable working with them rather than just focusing on their accomplishments.

If you decide this professional is not a good fit, it is best to tell them what is and isn’t working, since they may be able to adapt their approach or else provide you with a recommendation for someone better suited. You may also discuss whether perhaps you are uncomfortable with the process in general and not the professional, and so come to a better understanding of yourself.

Act on Your Decision!

Now that you have some guidelines for your search for a counselling professional, I encourage you to act on your decision to find support with someone who is a good fit for you. Counselling and therapy offer experiences that may help you in self-understanding, relationship skills, and setting goals that can transform your perspective or even your life. I wish you well on your counselling journey!


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Author: Michelle A. Bentley (MA, RP, RMFT)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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