This post is a little longer than my usual blog posts, so you may like to grab a cuppa and take a few minutes to read through.
There is also a useful PDF Checklist to help guide you through the process of choosing the right person to help. You can get that checklist by popping your email in below, and it will arrive in your inbox in a jiffy!
Hi, I’m Marléne Rose Shaw, therapist and author of self-help books. For over 25 years, I’ve been helping people gain more confidence, overcome anxiety and have better relationships.
One thing I’ve found is that people often feel confused when seeking help. They know what the problem is - but they’re not sure who they should be looking for, or the right questions to ask to make sure they get the right help.
That’s why I’ve taken some time to put together this post and free checklist to help you
How can you find the best counsellor or therapist for you?
What’s the Difference Between a Counsellor and a Therapist?
This can be confusing because the terms ‘Counsellor (US spelling Counselor)’ and ‘Therapist’ are often used interchangeably. It can be dependent on what the practitioner chooses to call themselves or what their training courses have been labelled as.
To add to the confusion, the terms 'counselling' and 'therapy' are used differently in different countries. In some countries for example, social workers are considered to be trained counsellors; whereas in other countries, such as the UK, social work is seen as a completely different role. In the UK, counsellors are required to be specifically trained in counselling if they want to do that work.
It’s no wonder people find it so confusing! To help you get a general idea of the difference between a counsellor and a therapist, my best explanation for you is the following:
A counsellor focuses on listening and creating the right environment for you so that you feel accepted, non-judged, understood and are able to speak your mind freely.
Counselling is very much about providing a safe relational space where you can talk and explore the issues that are worrying you. Within the process of talking it is often the case that themes and patterns in your life will come to light. You will begin to understand why you feel, think and behave the way that you do. A good counsellor will be proficient in skilfully asking you leading questions, to help you identify these themes and patterns.
One particular area that counselling is very helpful for is bereavement. This is because bereavement is not so much about finding solutions, as helping clients process and come to terms with loss.
In many ways the relational work in counselling can be seen as the foundation of what a therapist does.
A therapist will do everything a counsellor does; such as listening, not judging, spending time talking and exploring themes and patterns.
However, a therapist is also trained in very specific tools and techniques to help you find solutions. They do this by helping you get to the bottom of the limiting beliefs that are reinforcing your problems, rewire your unhelpful thinking patterns, clear the subconscious of unwanted programming, and let go of overwhelming emotions.
This means that you can go beyond understanding the why of your problem and take action to make lasting changes in your life. A good therapist will teach you these tools and techniques as part of your sessions; then, you can take these tools and techniques and practice them for yourself.
Once you’ve been taught these, you’ll have them for life. You can go back and practice them at any point when life’s stressful events pop up.
Therapists will have extra training in specialist areas; such as Anxiety, Communication Skills, Relationships, Post-Traumatic- Stress, Addiction etc
A good therapist will also offer you a range of extra resources to compliment the work you do in sessions. These could be handouts, worksheets videos and audios.
Clinical Supervision (VIP!)
It is recommended by the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), that practitioners who are working ethically, have a monthly session of supervision with a qualified Clinical Supervisor.
This is a very important ethical guideline.
A supervisor is someone who is trained to oversee the work of other practitioners, make sure they are staying within ethical guidelines, help them avoid pitfalls and keep their clients emotionally safe.
Some countries see supervision as a voluntary requirement. Others are mandatory: for example, in the UK your counsellor or therapist must be receiving monthly supervision if they wish to practice professionally.
It's always a good idea to ask if your practitioner is undertaking regular supervision
How Much Should I Expect to Pay for Counselling or Therapy?
This very much depends on how much experience your practitioner has. Counsellors typically charge less than therapists. They often have yet to acquire the added tools and techniques used by therapists, so their fee is reflective of what they offer.
A therapist will generally charge more than a counsellor. As a therapist continues to develop more and more depth of experience, they will increase their fees accordingly. This is reflected in the rapid shifts and transformations they can help you make. It is also reflected in the extra resources they offer as part of their therapy service.
For example, a highly qualified and experienced therapist will often provide worksheets, handouts videos, audios questionnaires etc for their clients. They may also have written books, run a blog, give talks, have a following in social media and have a mailing list where they offer personal development tools for their subscribers.
An experienced therapist will often also be a qualified in Clinical Supervision. This means they have taken a higher-level qualification which means they oversee the practice of other counsellors and therapists; helping them negotiate their own client work.
How Long are Counselling or Therapy Sessions?
In general, counselling sessions run for a standard 50 minutes. Therapy sessions are either 50 or 60 minutes.
Some therapists also offer extended sessions up to 90 minutes; where they consider these longer sessions are appropriate for their clients.
How Many Counselling or Therapy Sessions Will I Need?
This is a very individual thing. It’s best to discuss this at the beginning with your practitioner. Some people only require a few sessions, others need more. Many counsellors and therapists offer a discount for a block of 6 or 12 sessions. You can then always book a further block, or individual sessions if you wish to.
How Often Will I Need to Have Sessions?
In general, a client will have sessions once per week.
Sometimes if the issue is pressing, they will begin with two sessions per week until they feel better, then move to once per week.
Often, once a person has seen the great benefits of personal development, they may choose to continue on with monthly or 6 weekly sessions.
What Qualifications Should I Look for When Seeking a Counsellor or Therapist?
At the very least they should hold a Counselling Diploma. Ideally, they should also hold a degree in Psychology, plus a number of other qualifications.
They should have training in specific types of therapy. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Transactional Analysis (TA), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Matrix Reimprinting and so forth.
They should be receiving regular monthly supervision, and if they themselves are a qualified supervisor, that is a positive.
What Experience Should My Counsellor or Therapist Have?
The more experienced the better. Make sure they have experience in the specific area that you need help with. For example, if you are struggling with anxiety, look for someone who specifically offers this.
A very experienced practitioner will offer a handful of specific areas of expertise in which they help people; such as relationships, confidence, or anxiety
A less experienced practitioner may offer a wider range of different areas because they have yet to specialise.
Are Online Sessions Okay? - or Should I Only Seek a Local Counsellor or Therapist?
Many practitioners work online these days, via Skype or Zoom. If they also have an office space or a therapy room where they see local clients, that is a positive sign. However, don't be put off by working with someone online. Many practitioners are moving to a more online based practice these days. A skilled practitioner will put you at your ease; plus there are many benefits to having online sessions - see this post
What About Confidentiality?
Again, this varies, but as a rule, Counsellors and Therapists will be associated with an organisation which makes ethical guidelines clear. These state that your confidentiality must be kept, unless you tell them there is serious harm happening. If you are harming yourself, the practitioner may suggest sharing this with your doctor.
It’s best to ask about confidentiality at the beginning. Many practitioners will provide you with a confidentiality contract.
How Do I Decide Whether to Choose a Counsellor or a Therapist?
If you are seeking help from someone who can offer you a safe relationship space where you can talk and explore the issues that are worrying you, but you don’t want to go deeper, learn tools and techniques, spend more, then a counsellor is definitely the better option for you.
If on the other hand, you recognise that you keep repeating the same unwanted patterns in your life, want to explore deeply, and learn tools and techniques to make lasting changes, a therapist is definitely the better option for you.
It’s useful to think of counselling as helping you through a difficult time right now, and therapy as an investment in your future. In the same way you may invest in your health by eating well and exercising, or investing money in savings for your future, therapy is an investment in learning how to have better relationships, more confidence and success.
I hope this information has been helpful to you. It is meant as a general guideline to help you get a clearer picture on how to get help. I have also provided a handy checklist which you can use to help you quickly and easily get clear on what questions to ask when seeking a practitioner.