Selecting a Counselor or Therapist
To many people who are attempting to find a counselor or therapist, the process is daunting. It used to be that people would ask family, friends, etc., but now many people are searching on the internet. So this is a little “how-to” overview that hopefully will be helpful.
Usually the first criterion in finding a therapist for counseling is the concern: addiction, grief, anger, anxiety, couple’s counseling, counseling for a child, or personal growth. Not all counselors or therapists specialize in the same areas of expertise nor do all counselors work with the same population; for example, some counselors only work with individuals, others work with individuals and couples, and others work only with children.
The other criteria that many people use to select a counselor are the following: location, counseling approach of the therapist, personality of the counselor and cost. Some therapists do an interview session at no cost since the therapist-client relationship is so important in the therapeutic or counseling process. Some counselors or therapists accept insurance; others do not.
In the state of Arizona, the mental health professionals who are licensed to provide mental health are psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family counselors, substance abuse counselors and licensed professional counselors. A psychiatrist, MD, is a medical doctor and can prescribe medications. Other mental health professionals cannot prescribe since they do not have the medical training. A psychologist, PhD, has an advanced degree in psychology. If you are in need of testing for ADD or ADHD, or need other types of testing, you probably should be looking for a psychologist.
The other four licensed mental health professionals have a master’s degree, MA or MEd., but they have different training and focus. A Social Worker, MSW, often does case management work, a Marriage and Family Counselor, MFC, provides couples and family counseling, a Substance Abuse Counselor, SAC, focuses on addictions and a Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC, is more like a family doctor whose professional training is not as specialized but provides broader based treatment or counseling. It is appropriate to ask the mental health provider what the letters after their name stand for.
However, knowing this licensed alphabet soup may be informative but not so helpful since all of these professionals can be clinicians providing therapy or counseling. In the past it used to be that counselor indicated a professional who was more directive and the counselor’s approach was like a technician who treated clients with specific methods. A therapist or psychotherapy meant an approach that was not done to someone but with someone. Today, the terms counseling and therapy are more interchangeable.
The following are a few ways to tell if you have found someone you can work with. Does the therapist seem to understand what you are attempting to say? Does the therapist seem to be someone you can learn to trust and are comfortable with? Were you able to clarify your position when you felt you were not understood? Did you feel the therapist was interested in you? Did you feel the therapist interacted with you during the session? Did the therapist not talk too much?
Please see the FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions, section of this website for further information. Hopefully, this overview has answered some questions you may have had about counseling and has been helpful in your search for a therapist.