10 questions to ask a potential counsellor

May 26, 2018

By Jordan Pickell

Choosing the right counsellor is key to success in counselling. At the same time, it can be intimidating! Finding that right person you feel safe to talk with about the most sensitive details of your life, who “gets” you, and who has the skills and expertise necessary to support you in your specific challenges and goals– this can feel like a difficult task. Most people start at a directory listing like Psychology Today, BCACC or CounsellingBC. Or a google search of “counsellor Vancouver”. Let’s say you are more specific and you put in “counsellor Mount Pleasant”. You still get dozens of names. Beyond the basics like location and cost, how can you narrow down the list to find that right person? Read further for a list of questions you might want to ask your potential counsellor in the initial consultation.

Know that you have the right to choose your counsellor. You can ask potential counsellors questions. If you do begin with someone, and you feel it is not a good fit, you can go to someone else. Perhaps you have been working with someone for awhile and you want to make a change. That is absolutely okay! Many counsellors offer an initial consultation— either over the phone or in person for you to ask any questions you might have and for them to better assess whether they are a good fit to work with your specific issues and needs. You might have a consultation call or initial sessions with your top two or three choices before you delve deeper with one person. As counsellors, we do not need people to protect our feelings. If for any reason you feel we are not a good fit, let’s have a conversation about what kind of counsellor you are looking for, and we can provide you with a list of names. Finding the right fit counsellor is important!

So, you are looking for a counsellor. You narrow it down based on location, cost, and maybe something they wrote on their website, or the fact that they look like someone you would get along with. You decide to have the initial consultation calls with your top choices. What questions might you ask?

Questions about skills and expertise

  • I see on your website you help people who struggle with ______. Can you tell me how you work with that? This will give you a sense right away whether someone is comfortable and well-versed in the area and whether their way of addressing that specific issue would be helpful.
  • Have you worked with people who ______? Most of us have a few things going on– multiple issues and facets to our identities and histories. The counsellor may clearly be skilled in working with people struggling with depression, but what about working with people struggling with depression who have also experienced sexual assault, or who also identify as queer? It’s important that you feel your counsellor can support you as a whole person with all the issues and identities and histories you bring.
  • How long have you been a counsellor? People usually judge someone’s appearance of age as an indicator of experience. Remember that people may not be the age they look. And age is not necessarily tied to counselling experience. Older folks may be newer to the field, and younger folks may have been in the social service field for much longer than you might expect.

Questions about how they work

  • What is your counselling style? Do they tend to lead the direction of the session or allow clients to take the lead? Do they attend to events of the past or focus mostly on the present? This information is useful to see how aligned the counsellor’s style is with your preferences.
  • How often/long do you usually see your clients? Related to counselling style, this can give you more information about whether this is the type of support you are looking for. Are you hoping to see someone on a regular and long-term basis? Or for a few sessions that focus on symptom-management and problem-solving?
  • What is your theoretical orientation? Theoretical orientation is therapist shorthand for how we understand problems and the process of change. As counsellors, we can be very attached to our identities around theoretical orientation. However, most counsellors draw on multiple theories and approaches can vary widely than what you might  assume based on someone’s self-identified theoretical orientation. This question is most helpful if you know you want to work with a specific kind of therapist– such as a cognitive-behavioural therapist or a narrative therapist. A good follow-up would be to ask how they apply that theory in their work. If they say they are trauma-informed, ask them what that means to them and how it shows up in session.
  • How do you respond to _________? Perhaps you know something difficult might come up for you in session such as a panic attack or flashbacks or dissociation (for example, going numb, or sense of being outside your body). Based on their answer, do you think you could build trust and safety with this person?
  • Do you offer homework? Homework is a great way to bridge the learning from counselling sessions into your daily life.

Questions about who they are

  • What are your views on _____? You may hold some values, especially if they have to do with who you are or what you are bringing to counselling, that are essential to ask a potential counsellor. For example, are they a feminist? Anti-racist? Are they identity-affirming? Further, what are their views on mental health diagnoses and medication? Do they think that forgiving an abuser is necessary for healing? Do they think all survivors of sexual assault should report to police? Perhaps you want someone who will understand your spiritual or religious views. Or maybe you want someone who will stay far away from that.
  • Do you see a counsellor yourself? Full stop: I don’t trust a counsellor who is not actively engaged in their own healing/growth/self-work. It is best practice for a counsellor to consistently reflect on and process their own stuff so that it supports, rather than interferes with, your process in counselling. A counsellor seeing their own counsellor tells me that they believe in counselling as a facilitator of change.

Go with your gut

Ultimately,  when in doubt, go with your gut. Notice how you feel in your body while you are speaking with them, and afterwards. Ask yourself, do I feel safe with this person? Do I like them? Do I trust them? Would I feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics like trauma, death, sex and money? This initial impression can give you a lot of information. Counselling is a big commitment of your time, money, and emotional energy. It is important that you find the right fit counsellor for you.

If you would like to book a free, 15-minute consultation over the phone, click here. If we aren’t a good fit to work together in counselling, I can help you find the counsellor that will be a better fit for you.



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