Tips for Choosing a Counselor

Here are some details to consider when choosing a counselor.

1. Ask yourself if a counselor is right for you

Questions you may want to consider before contacting a counselor are:

  • How severe is the problem?
  • How motivated am I to change?
  • Do I want short-term help with the unpleasant symptoms I am experiencing and/or do I want longer-term help to explore the underlying causes of the symptoms?
  • Do I want help to prevent issues from coming up again in the future?
  • How much time am I willing to commit to this process?
  • What helped me in the past when I grappled with this issue?
  • What resources have I tried already?
  • How did those work for me (books, friends, support groups, seminars, small group, Community Groups, Healing Groups)?
  • How much can I afford to spend?
  • Can I pay for this out-of-pocket or will my insurance cover the cost?
  • What will the emotional and spiritual price be to me and my loved ones if I do not get help?

These questions may help you to consider what has worked for you in the past, what has not, and to determine your need for professional involvement.

2. Find the right match

When considering what counselor to choose, you may want to ask friends for recommendations of people they have found helpful. In addition, it is appropriate to try a session or two with a counselor and see how well you work together. If you don’t find that you’ve made a good connection, feel free to try a different person for a session until you get the right fit (after first ending your relationship with the initial counselor). While it is not wise to switch counselors in the middle of therapy, it is appropriate to do some exploration in the introductory stages to find a person you feel comfortable working with. You may also let the counselor know you are in the process of exploring a good fit and would like to try a few sessions before you commit to working with that particular person.

Location and appointment availability are also important factors to consider. You are more likely to go to regular appointments if they fit your schedule and if the location is convenient to you. Also, consider if you would prefer working with a male or female counselor, or if it makes a difference at all to you.

3. Know your counselor’s experience and approach

The following questions are helpful to ask when selecting the right counselor. Feel free to request to speak with the receptionist at the agency or the counselor themselves if you have questions. These questions may help you narrow the field. Many counselors are willing to answer questions over the phone when you are inquiring about their services. More detailed questions may be discussed during the first session.

  • What are your areas of specialty? What are your areas of competencies?
    Specialty and Competency Areas are two different categories that overlap. Generally, Specialty Areas are those categories that the counselor is expert in. Counselors tend to specialize in the areas that interest them most. Competency Areas are topics that the counselor is proficient in. For example, a family counselor may specialize in marriage counseling however, he or she likely has adequate training in working with the whole family system including children. Some examples of these areas are: marriage, substance abuse, administration, mental health, and diagnosis and treatment of personality disorders.
  • What are your credentials? (more on this below)
  • For counselors who are Christ-followers:
    • If I would like to incorporate prayer into the sessions, how will that work?
    • How do you integrate biblical principles into the sessions?
    • What are your views on topics that are important to me (e.g. divorce, remarriage, roles of husband and wife in marriage)?
  • What is your general approach to counseling? Any counselor will be able to name and briefly describe their theoretical approach to counseling. Counseling approaches include: Person-centered, Solution-focused, Behavioral, Cognitive, and Eclectic to name a few. Feel free to inquire about the approach and how that will impact your overall experience with that counselor.

4. Understand payment and scheduling details

Counseling is an investment in your mental health and in your relationships. It’s not cheap—you can expect to pay between $80-150 per session. Counselors with doctoral degrees will be on the higher end of that range and some may have a sliding scale (discounted rates based on your income level), so be sure to ask. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How often do you schedule sessions (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly)?
  • How do you determine the length of the counseling process (weeks, months, and years)?
  • Do you accept insurance? What form of payment do you accept? When is payment due?
  • How much are your session fees? How long does each session last?
  • What is your session cancellation policy and “no-show” policy?

5. Know your counselor’s policy on insurance coverage

Some counselors do not accept insurance or don’t participate in insurance panels because they want to protect your confidentiality. Insurance companies require counselors to provide a diagnosis for clients before they can be reimbursed. Many clients DO NOT have a diagnosable disorder. To give a diagnosis just for insurance reimbursement purposes can put the counselor in an unethical and fraudulent position.

Most insurance companies use a managed care company to manage the consumers’ mental health benefits. These companies require a treatment plan be submitted after the initial authorization for sessions. This means that counselors may have to answer questions that pertain to your treatment and give any additional information requested in order for more sessions to be approved. Also, your diagnosis is entered into a computer database which the company says is confidential; however, often your diagnosis and other pertinent information is fed into a national medical information database (MIB) that centralizes information for approximately 700 insurance companies. At the very least it would be on record that you saw a therapist for some type of mental illness. This database information is accessed if you subsequently apply for any individual life, disability or health insurance during the next seven years.

Even if your counselor doesn’t accept insurance, you may still be reimbursed. Check with your insurance company to see if they reimburse for “out of network” mental health care and how much your plan will reimburse you. After paying your fee in full at the time of the appointment, counselors can provide you with a receipt or statement with the necessary information you will need to send a claim to your company.

6. Understand your counselor’s credentials

Research indicates that the quality of a therapist’s work is less related to their degree or license and more related to their experience and training. Mental health is a very broad subject and covers a great deal of ground. No one professional (or even one group of professionals) can know everything there is to know about all aspects of mental health treatment. Consequently, mental health professionals usually have particular treatment areas they specialize in beyond their general training in mental health issues. Feel free to discuss any questions that you have concerning a professional’s training and experience on a given mental health issue with the professional of your choice.

In order to be licensed by the state of Ohio, all of the professionals listed below have completed a specified time of clinical training, supervised experienced, and have passed an examination given by the State. All mental health professionals who work in independent practice have some form of postgraduate training (graduate school or medical school). In the state of Ohio, all licensed mental health professionals are required to obtain some form of continuing education units by attending additional training in order to renew their license.

Licensed mental health professionals in Ohio include:

  • M.D. or D.O. (Psychiatrist)—Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have graduated from a four-year medical school, and have completed both an internship and a residency in psychiatry.
  • Ph.D or Psy.D (Clinical Psychologist)— Licensed psychologists have graduated from a doctoral program and must complete postgraduate clinical experience. They can provide diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders.
  • LPC or PC (Licensed Professional Counselor or Professional Counselor)— Professional counselors hold a Master’s degree in Counseling and have passed a State Board exam.
  • LPCC or PCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor or Professional Clinical Counselor )—Professional clinical counselors may work independently and engage in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. In addition to a master’s degree, clinical counselors take an additional 20 semester hours of instruction and pass a State Board exam.
  • LISW or LSW (Social Worker)—Social workers have graduated from either a master’s or doctoral counseling program and have completed 3000 hours (approximately two years of full-time employment) of post-licensure experience in counseling and have passed a license examination administered by the state of Ohio.
  • LSW (Licensed Social Worker)— A licensed social worker works as a social worker under the supervision of a psychiatrist, professional clinical counselor, independent social worker, or psychiatric nurse.
  • LISW (Licensed Independent Social Worker)— An independent social worker may engage in the private practice of social work as an individual practitioner or as a member of partnership or group practice, which includes the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders.
  • IMFT (Independent Marriage and Family Therapist)—A marriage and family therapist has a graduate degree, clinical work experience, and has passed state-certified licensing exams. Along with a two- to three-year master’s programs with a practicum and internship, IMFTs are required to complete clinical training in individual or family therapy.
  • CCDC I, II, III (Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor)—A clinician who is certified at the CCDC III level has met the state minimum requirements of: a master’s degree; one year of chemical dependency counseling work experience; 270 hours of chemical dependency specific training; completed a preceptorship; and completed both a written and an oral examination.