How to Choose a Therapist or Counselor

When it comes to psychology, counseling, or therapy choosing a clinician is important.  First a disclaimer, this article is written by me a human service professional since 1983 and the founder of Southwest Florida Counseling and Therapy Center.  However, with that said it is a good guide for you no matter where you live and are searching for a therapist for yourself or loved one.

The first thing to look at in your search is “YOU!” What is it that you want?  Why are you searching? Have you been coerced into the search? Do you want guidance or are you looking for someone to tell you what to do?  Before you start, write down the reason for your search. Be honest with yourself and be willing, to be honest with your clinician. There is nothing wrong with telling your counselor the truth of your desire to seek their assistance.  

For instance, let’s say you were recently arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and you are trying to get a jump on the legal process.  Letting your counselor know what your beliefs are about the situation will only help the clinician to assist you in your goal(s). For example, “I made a poor choice, but I wasn’t that drunk.  I need to show the court that I am serious about not making this mistake again!” A good clinician wants to know this, they are not going to judge you, label you or pressure you into accepting the reality they paint for you.  

This leads me to the features of a great clinician.  First, they are listeners and not tellers. They focus on listening to you and your challenges, perceptions and goals.  They are not attempting to fix you within their belief system. They are looking to empower you to make prudent and healthy decisions.  They want to focus on your strengths, desires, and abilities to achieve happiness, joy, and wellbeing.

They value their time and your time.  Therapists are professional service providers they value their time and expertise.  They recognize that the things in life that we receive for free are often taken for granted.  Thus they value your time, commitment to change and your contribution to that endeavor. They will do what they say they are going to do and expect you to do the same.  

They have reasonable boundaries, as much as you may feel that they are becoming your friend they have an ethical obligation to be a professional.  However, they choose their words correctly if you begin to feel otherwise in order to maintain a proper perspective on your challenges or goals.

Just because a therapist has been in the field for decades does not make them a good choice for you.  I say that knowing that I have been in the field for over three decades, so take this seriously. Long-term professionals can get burned out, opinionated and callous.  Listen to what they say during your evaluation if it seems one-sided and nonflexible keep looking! Equally, young professionals can be book smart, idealistic and looking to change the world including you!  Their narrative is often mechanical and rigid, be careful!

Great therapists do not judge you or confront you with their reality they listen, observe and offer alternative scenarios for your contemplation and consideration.  They are considerate with their narratives, for instance, alcohol use is a norm in our society. Alcohol misuse is often a norm in our society as well, depending upon our place in the life cycle.  A counselor labeling you as an “Alcoholic” is often a sign of an immature clinician, a burned out clinician, or an uninformed clinician. Labeling you is your choice and only your choice.

Finally, ask for references.  Take the time to contact the references.  Look let’s be honest, the therapist is not going to give you a poor reference but that is not the point, simply put, you can ask questions like what were you looking for when you were searching for a therapist?  How did you change your perspective or did you? Look at testimonials to see if they are they BS testimonials on their site. Finally, look at their reviews, a prudent therapist will utilize listing services like “Psychology Today.”  Check those and see what others are saying about them.

If you are searching for answers, want an open-minded clinician, one with significant experience, excellent references by former participants, family members, and other national providers, then give me a call at (239) 687-9198 you will be glad you did.