What You Need In A Counselor

Originally published Wednesday, 11 September 2013.

This is a follow-up post from yesterday’s thoughts on when you need a counselor. So if you answered yes to one of yesterday’s 4 reasons, here’s what to do next:

Step #1: Find somewhere to begin. The best way to find a good counselor is through a referral. Do you have a few friends or small group? Ask them if they have any recommendations. Brave enough to use social media? Say something like, “i’m looking for some good counselors in the area.” You’d be amazed what you’ll find when you are brave enough to ask.

Step #2: If you don’t have that kind of group or are too scared to do that, call a large church in your area. Ask the front desk who’s responsible for congregational care, and leave a message or email asking for a referral. Many large churches often have a counseling network or even a counselor on staff. This is a great place to connect.

Step #3: Use the web. Check out AACC.net for Christian Counselors in your area. But, seriously, the very best way to find a good counselor is word of mouth, so I recommend starting with steps 1 or 2.

Step #4: Give it a go and commit to three sessions. You want good chemistry with a counselor, but don’t just trust your first impression. Give it at least two and hopefully three sessions to decide if you click with your counselor. And if you don’t click, MOVE ON. Don’t stay with a counselor that doesn’t help you grow. Don’t feel bad about it. We are all different personalities and we need different things.

So here’s a few things you should experience from your counselor:

> They want to understand you, and they will stick with a topic or question until you feel understood.

> They won’t jump to conclusions. Even counselors forget to listen sometimes. You should feel heard. Remember, this isn’t a friendship, this is a business transaction (a weird one, but still a business). And feeling heard/understood is a non-negotiable.

> They ask questions that make you think/say/experience life in a different way. They follow up from the week before and they expect progress, and point out the progress you’ve made.

> They believe in you more than you believe in yourself. I used to tell clients that if they ran out of (hope, faith, courage, patience) I would have enough for both of us. You need a counselor who believes you can change, believes in you. They comfort and challenge in the right measure for your temperament.

Step #5: decide you are in for this. A counselor isn’t a magician and they can’t make your problems disappear.  Once you make that call and schedule that appointment, you’ve done the hard work of recognizing some truth about yourself and doing something about it. That’s honest and that’s brave. I used to always tell new clients, “when you made that call, you’ve already started to grow.” Now don’t stop.

Next post, I’ll share some great books and resources to help you as you begin this journey.