Choosing the right counsellor can be a challenging task. However, I have suggestions to help you figure out how to choose a counsellor or therapist.
How Much Should I care about the Model my Therapist uses?
Not a lot and a lot.
Research has long proven that the most important thing in therapy or counselling is the “therapeutic alliance” – the relationship you have with your Counsellor or Therapist. Therefore, you should choose a counsellor you can connect with.
However, some counsellors choose their therapeutic models, because of the their own preferences; while others choose models that are research and evidenced-based practices. These evidenced-based models have proven to be effective and successful in the therapeutic, change process.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is an example of a model that has a lot of research backing it. EFT has been proven to be very successful with couples. If you want to read more about EFT, you can read “Hold Me Tight”. It is a great couples book that will help you understand your relationship dynamics. Sue Johnson, the creator of the EFT model of therapy, is the author.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), which was first used with War Veterans, is also a well, researched model. There is a lot of evidence supporting its effectiveness for a wide range of clients experiencing a variety of traumatic issues.
How Much Should I care about their Registration or Education?
The simple answer: a lot.
Currently in most of Canada the counselling field is unregulated. Meaning that any ‘old joe’ can call themselves a counsellor or therapist (whatever their preferred term is). What does this mean for clients? You guessed it, its an absolute nightmare sifting through counsellor lists. There are so many acronyms RSWs, RPs, CCCs, RTCs, RCCs, RMFTs, MMFTs, RPCs, etc. This list barely scratches the surface. So how are you, the client, supposed to know who’s actually qualified? Please read my blog article “How to Understand a Counsellor’s Qualifications”, if you want to know more about these acronyms. In that article, you will learn how to tell who is professionally trained. Currently, if you are a plumber and you want to market yourself as a counsellor, there’s no overarching, unified college that’s going to say “you can’t do that, you aren’t properly trained.
If you are looking for a physiotherapist, on the other hand, in order to practice as a physiotherapist in Canada, you must be registered with the appropriate provincial College of Physiotherapists.
Now you see the great dilemma clients face when looking for a professional counsellor or therapist.
Symptoms or Causes?
Find a therapist that finds, assesses and treats root causes, because a therapist that finds, assesses and treats symptoms will drain your bank account.
In purely financial and business terms, treating symptoms is much more financially, beneficial than treating root causes. If I treat symptoms, I can, likely, guarantee an unlimited amount of sessions from the client (depending of course on their financial state of affairs). However, if I’m treating root causes, there will most definitely be an end to the therapeutic relationship.
Unfortunately, the medical model is the format for our entire medical system. The medical model, largely, focuses on the treatment of symptoms. For example, You have a cold? Here are some antibiotics.
Exploring the Root Issue
There is another way to do therapy. Find a therapist that is dedicated to root cause treatment, not symptom treatment. This will allow you to see quicker changes and you will experience lasting and permanent effects.
For couples seeking relational counselling, often therapists treating symptoms will focus on “bad communication”. What is bad communication anyways? Here’s a thought – doesn’t everyone, under certain conditions (or we could say the right conditions) communicate badly? It’s not a trick question. The answer is: yes! Absolutely! You will choose bad communication for the rest of your life, under certain conditions.
Here’s the kicker. So will I. Yes, this therapist just admitted that she also subscribes to bad communication at certain times in her life. It’s impossible not to. You can be the healthiest person and have great communication skills, but if someone is swearing at you and belittling you, you might just snap. No, you say? Well what if you were kidnapped, then they swore at and belittled you? You might freeze and not say anything – that’s bad communication by the way.
My point is that bad communication is a symptom of a root cause. Bad communication happens when we are not able to keep our cool, when something has triggered us, or we feel emotionally unsafe. It doesn’t matter how much I focus on teaching couples to communicate kindly and effectively, when their epicentre (brain) says freeze, fight, or flight, all you will see is that they freeze, fight, or flight a bit “prettier” than before. Or maybe not, maybe they just completely resort back to what they know. You can learn how to communicate effectively from google search. However, understanding the underlying attachment distress and emotional triggers that make or break relationships – well that’s why you need me.
How Long should I expect to be in Counselling?
How do you know therapy is working and how long should you give it if it isn’t working?
Change is a process – it requires you to have a goal and then trust the process to get you there, but you also have to be willing to make those changes yourself. You have to actively participate in your counselling, otherwise you are wasting your time.
If you are doing individual counselling you should ask your counsellor after the first 1-3 sessions (the assessment phase of counselling), what you should expect as far as how long you’ll need to do counselling for. Every individual case is so unique and their goals so different. If your just trying to gain some self-awareness and understand yourself better you might only need 5-8 sessions. However, if you’ve experienced a major trauma in your life it could take anywhere from 8 to 25 sessions.
I tell most of my couples that they should notice some big differences in the way they understand their relationship and they should also be starting to see changes in each other (granted both are participating) by the 10th session. Many couples are well on their way to being done with therapy by the 10-15 session mark and if they aren’t, they at least know what they have accomplished and what’s left for them to work on.
If you are just experiencing a horrible repeat of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, then you should know by session 10 that either one of you isn’t putting in the effort, the counsellor just isn’t the right fit (one or both of you doesn’t have a good relationship with your counsellor) or you have a counsellor that’s just treating symptoms. Either way, if my couples make it to 5 sessions and every session starts to feel like replay, we pause and have a discussion about what might not be working, including considering that possibly it’s not the right fit. Remember how to choose the right counsellor or therapist is not an easy task.
At this point, we explore the goals the couple have and make sure we are all on the same page. I might, also, explore whether the couple are understanding the information from sessions. If we make it all the way to session 10 with no improvements – I generally stop the therapy and ask the couple to seriously reflect on what’s happening in counselling. At this point I may recommend they get a second opinion, or see someone else. This shouldn’t happen. If this happens in my sessions – it’s because I tried multiple times to point out that progress wasn’t happening and the client likely ignored all my attempts.
Thank you for reading. Now you can more easily answer the question, how to choose a counsellor or therapist. I hope this information and these suggestions help you as you mine and sift through counsellor and therapist lists, looking for your “unicorn” counsellor. I’m not claiming to be every client’s perfect match. However, I am hoping that I can help guide you in your search for the perfect counsellor….whether you end up being my client, or someone else’s.