Finding the Right Counselor

Written by: Caroline Sebren, Senior student at USC

Finding the right counselor can be a challenge, especially if it’s anxiety inducing to meet new people and open up. But know that it is the job of the counselor to approach you warmly, without judgement. If you do feel judged or criticized, perhaps that person isn’t the right fit. Ideally, you should be able to find someone with a personality you connect with and a counseling style that fits your needs. There are many other things to consider when you are searching for mental health services but know that it is not an impossible journey.

Know Your Rights

            As a client, you have certain rights during counseling sessions. You have the right to review notes if you ask for them, to stop services at any time, request a referral, and view the records of your children, if they are the one in therapy. You also have the right to full confidentiality. It is unlawful for your counselor to disclose anything about your sessions or records to others, unless it is required by the law. These exceptions include if it is court ordered, if you disclose that there is child or elder abuse occurring, or if you are a danger to yourself or others. The exact specifications may vary depending on which state you live in, so be sure to learn what laws your state has in place regarding confidentiality. If you are a minor, your therapist has a duty to report abuse that is happening to you if you disclose it, or if your parents ask for your records, they must turn them over.

Know What You’re Looking For

Depending on the type of counseling you’re seeking, you might be limited in providers. Not every counselor is certified to perform CBT or family systems therapy. You should also consider if you are going in for individual, couples and family, or group therapy, and if the type of therapy you need is long term or short term.1 If you require psychological evaluations for diagnoses, or medication prescriptions, you will need to see a psychiatrist for an official diagnosis. Psychiatrists meet with you more infrequently to make sure your medications are working for you, and generally are less involved in the mental health process, unless they also perform counseling services. Many people see a psychiatrist in addition to a therapist. Keep in mind if you feel like you need to request a male or female counselor. Some women are more comfortable seeing other women, especially if they are seeking recovery from abuse inflicted upon them by men. The same can be applied to men. Keep in mind how you want to receive services, many counseling sessions are conducted virtually to ensure safety over the pandemic. Virtual sessions can make counseling more accessible, but it can be harder to see body language and other nonverbal forms of communication. If you have your heart set on in person services, talk with the practice to see what they offer and what their Covid-19 policies are.

Questions to Ask a Potential Counselor

  • How many years have you been practicing?2
  • Where did you get your degree and licensure?
  • What areas are you certified to practice in/do you have experience in? (CBT, DBT, etc.)2
  • Is your company/style of counseling affiliated with a religion or particular church? (you might ask this if you are seeking services that also incorporate teachings from your church into sessions, or if you know that you want a completely non-religious approach)
  • Is your practice welcoming and safe for LGBTQ+ individuals?
  • Does your company also provide psychiatry services?
  • Does your company accept my insurance?2
  • How is billing handled?2
  • How much do you charge per session?2
  • Do you offer virtual counseling?

What if it’s Not Working?

  • One of the first things you can try is to give it more time. Mental health is not a linear journey, and it can take time for counseling (and medication) to help you. A study done about improvement in mental health found that 50% of clients saw improvement after eight sessions, and 75% had significant improvements after six months.2
  • Communicate to your therapist what isn’t working for you. Did a technique they used not feel right, or do they not have personal or previous professional experience with an issue you’re facing? Tell them! Sometimes even if we are different from our counselors it can still be a good match, because a good counselor will allow you to open that dialogue and discuss your differences, which can lead to a more open bond and allow them a deeper understanding of your issues.
  • If after discussing this with your therapist and you decide it’s not a good fit, that’s okay! Ask for a referral and see if they can help you find someone who is more suited to your needs.
  • If you find yourself experiencing severe microaggressions or feel your therapist is not respecting you, invalidating your feelings/experiences, or subjecting you to abuse or other unethical behaviors, you have the right to terminate services and lodge an official complaint.


            You may not find the right match for you on your first try, and that’s okay. You may need to meet with several different counselors for a few sessions each to see how you work together. The American Psychological Association offers a psychologist locator that you can use to find services near you. Know that you deserve a counselor who suits your needs and helps you overcome your struggles. You deserve to be and feel well and have support within your life.

Live well!


This article was written by Caroline Sebren, a senior at the University of South Carolina and current volunteer writer for Carolina Assessment Services, LLC. Caroline is a current Psychology major with a minor in Counselor Education and hopes to pursue work in the future as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

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