Applied Psychology

How to choose a Counsellor

Mar 24, 2022
How to choose a Counsellor - SACAP
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It’s difficult to talk through intensely personal emotional problems. The last thing you want to do is put yourself into the hands of an inexperienced, ineffective, or unusable counsellor. While there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to therapy, here are some guidelines on how to choose a counsellor.  These will assist you in finding a practitioner best suited to your personality and needs.

3 Things to Consider when Choosing a Therapist

Taking the first step of deciding to see a therapist is often a big one. Which makes the next one of finding someone important. This is because the counsellor you see could either reinforce your determination or highlight your trepidation of engaging in therapy.

The contextualisation of your potential counsellor is important. Ahead of an appointment, it is good to know what qualifications your counsellor has and how these are complimented by their experience. Additionally, it’s good to ask what approach to counseling they have. Finally, upon meeting your counsellor, you should determine how comfortable you are with them as your therapist.

“Ahead of going to a therapist, find out what you can about them.”

1. Qualifications vs Experience

As a potential client you are perfectly within your rights to ask what a prospective counsellor’s qualifications and practical experience is. More specifically, how these relate to treating challenges such as your own.

A qualification in counselling makes a difference to the base a therapist works from. For example, what institution did they attend? What is their specialisation and which specific degrees and specialised courses have they completed? Knowing this will give you a better idea of how rigorous and what their theoretical knowledge is focused on. 

However, research shows that hands-on experience often outweighs a slew of letters behind a counsellor’s name. Therefore, it’s good to weigh these things up against each other. Often it helps to get a recommendation from a trusted source, such as someone who has used their services or your doctor. Alternatively, many therapists now have reviews online that you can look through.

2. Approach and Technique

Equally acceptable is to question his or her theoretical orientation or methodology. These are the theories the clinician subscribes to in thinking about a person’s problems and how best to treat them. For therapy to be effective, you need to believe in the method that a counsellor uses.

Possible Methodology and Theories

Most counsellors nowadays subscribe to what is called an ‘eclectic’ orientation. This means that, in general, they try to tailor their treatment approach to your own way of relating and the problems you face. However, some counsellors do use specific models. These are based on particular theories of personality development or the manner in which difficulties develop. However, increasingly these are giving way to helping approaches. A helping approach encourages clients to be actively involved in their own healing processes. This is achieved by initiating positive behaviours and developing problem-solving strategies.

This ‘solutions-focussed’ approach to counselling works primarily on issues of the recent past and present. Therefore, it doesn’t address issues such as buried childhood trauma. It’s neatly framed in a model developed in the late 1990s by Gerard Egan, a professor of Organisation Development and Psychology from the business school of Loyola University of Chicago. The qualities advocated by the Egan’s Skilled Helper approach are respect, empathy and effective communication. These particular qualities make for good counselling and a useful guide when shopping for your own counsellor. Egan’s methodology is taught as part of the Practical Counselling Skills component of the various diplomas, certificates and degrees offered at SACAP.

“Respect, Empathy and Effective Communication are good qualities to look for as part of a Methodology.”

3. Comfort is Key

You must find a counsellor that you are comfortable with. Thus, despite a therapist having great qualifications, experience as well as a methodology you like, it’s not enough. Therapy is not an easy process and your therapist is not there to be your friend. Nor will sessions necessarily be comfortable. In fact, depending on what you’re processing, a session may unsettle you or be quite emotional.  However, you should still feel that the space provided by your counsellor is safe. Therefore, you can certainly choose a counsellor whom you feel respects your individuality, opinions, and self.

You must be able to trust your counsellor completely. If you feel you have to lie or withhold important information, you are not going to get any real help. At some point you also need to feel that your therapist is actually helping you. Overtime, if you do not feel relief from your emotional problems, you may not be getting the best treatment available.

If you are already in therapy, then regard these warning signs as reasons to think about choosing another counsellor. When choosing a new counsellor, reflect on your initial sessions and look out for these types of warning signs.

“Experience and approach don’t always translate into trust and feeling safe.”

How to be the Counsellor People Choose

The ideal mix within a qualifying process is to have a rigorous theoretical base and practical experience. Practitioners with a Diploma, Advanced Certificate in Counselling, or Bachelor of Applied Social Science (BAppSocSci) Degree from the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) receive rigorous training in social science, psychology and counselling theories. They also benefit from 200 hours of supervised fieldwork, which equips them with vital practical experience in applying their knowledge in a real-world scenario. If you are passionate about helping people, then contact an advisor to find out which qualification suits your passion best. Alternatively, enrol online today.

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