Nobody wants to put his or her intensely personal emotional problems into the hands of an inexperienced, ineffective, or useless counsellor. And, while there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to therapy, there are some guidelines you can follow on how to choose a counsellor to ensure you find the practitioner best suited to your personality and needs.
How important are a Counsellor’s qualifications
A qualification in counselling does count in this respect, but research shows that hands-on experience often outweighs a slew of letters behind a counsellor’s name. While, for instance, 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.
It is perfectly within your rights as a client to ask after a prospective counsellor’s qualifications and practical experience in treating problems such as yours. Equally acceptable is to question his or her theoretical orientation, or the theories the clinician subscribes to in thinking about a person’s problems and how best to treat them.
Understand the Counsellor’s technique
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. Counselling models based on particular theories of personality development or theories about the ways difficulties develop are increasingly giving way to helping approaches that encourage clients to become actively involved in their own healing processes by initiating positive behaviours and developing problem-solving strategies.
This ‘solutions-focussed’ approach to counselling – which works primarily on issues of the recent past and present, rather than, say, the buried traumas of childhood – is neatly framed in a model developed in the late 1990s by Gerard Egan, a professor of Organisation Development and Psychology in the business school of Loyola University of Chicago. The qualities advocated by the Egan Skilled Helper approach – respect, empathy, effective communication – are ones that make for good counselling and a useful guide when shopping for your own counsellor. Egan methodology is taught as part of the Practical Counselling Skills component of the various diplomas, certificates and degrees offered at SACAP.
Comfort is key
Above all, though, you must find a counsellor you feel comfortable with. Therapy is not an easy process and your therapist is not there to be your friend. Having said that, however, 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. You must also feel, at some point in therapy, that actually going to your therapist is helping you. If you do not feel relief from your emotional problems, you may not be getting the best treatment available. Regard these types of warning signs as reasons to think about choosing another counsellor if you are already in therapy, or signs to look out for during your initial few sessions with a new counsellor.