Finding The Right Counselor

Morning friends,

Hope you are having a good week. Holidays are usually pretty tough for people in destructive relationships and my prayers are for you to remember God has given you an incredible gift of his peace. Jesus says to us, “I’m leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So do not be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27). You may not feel peaceful or have peace with your spouse or other family members, but Jesus promises his people that we will receive a special gift of his peace.

Today’s question is one I receive often. I’ve answered it before but not for a while and it bears updating in these turbulent times. Depression, anxiety, suicide, and addictions have skyrocketed in 2020. Our world has lived in fear and isolation most of 2020 and it is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health even as we try to stay safe and keep others safe from the virus.

You may need some extra help from a counselor in order to regain your stability and your peace. Please don’t shame yourself about this. If you had a persistent temperature, you’d get yourself checked out by a doctor for COVID. In the same way, if you’re feeling hopeless, lethargic, or have lost interest in things you’ve previously enjoyed, have anxiety, or are using substances to dull the ache in your soul, you need to get some help for your emotional and mental health.

Today’s Question: You may remember me as the brain tumor and stroke survivor who left her mentally abusive cheating, narcissistic, controlling husband I divorced in 2018. I am hoping you can refer me to the best therapist to support me through retrieving my property from my home the judge awarded me after their continued noncooperation. Thank you.

Answer: Since I don’t know where you live, I can’t suggest someone who might be helpful. However, with telehealth changing the landscape of who you can “talk to,” I’d recommend that you look for a counselor who has expertise in brain injuries and as a bonus, knows the crazymaking that happens in destructive relationship patterns.

Fighting to regain your house will add extra stress to your life and you will need support to manage the extra toll it will take on your already weakened brain and body. Only someone who specializes in understanding brain injuries will be able to provide that specific kind of support you will need. I’d look for someone who is trained in neuropsychology.

But let me broaden your question for others who may want to seek some outside help from a counselor or coach.

There are many people who label themselves as a counselor and/or coach these days. They may be in your church, workplace, community, or on the Internet. It’s important that you do your own due diligence to find out their credentials. Check to see if they’re licensed, their education, their expertise, their experience, and their approach to the “work.” I’d also suggest you do a quick search to see if the person you are considering has had any malpractice suits or claims of unprofessional conduct. If so, take him or her off your list of potential helpers. You’re already struggling with relationship issues you don’t need to repeat them with your counselor.

There is one other crucial ingredient in finding a good counselor and how much he or she charges is not it. It’s the actual person of the counselor/coach.

For example, sometimes you can get by with a medical doctor who is an amazing physician but who lacks good bedside manner when you are there for a specific purpose, like surgery. However, when you need to have an ongoing relationship with your physician, counselor, or coach, a good fit between you and the professional cannot be underestimated.

Relational pain and trauma is experienced within destructive relationships and personal and relational healing is experienced within a healthy relationship. The professional you trust with your health, especially your mental and emotional health, must be able to model the ingredients of a healthy relationship with you, in order for you to grow and get healthy yourself.

For those who promote themselves as a Christian counselor this goes even deeper. The Christian counselor has the responsibility to represent Christ to their client in such a way that their client gets an experience of what God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s unconditional love looks like, all while maintaining professional boundaries with Godly wisdom.

Here are some things to pay attention to. You want your counselor to listen carefully to your story. To not interrupt or put words in your mouth. You want your counselor to validate your feelings, encourage your growth, and help you set appropriate goals for yourself to get healthy. However, if you do want to get healthy, you don’t want someone who will just hold your hand and comfort you – you can get a friend to do that. Your counselor or coach must help you grow, challenge (in a good way) your resistance to that growth, and help you process your negative emotions constructively.

It’s important that you feel safe, understood, and pushed in a supportive way to get to the next step of your journey. (Sometimes we can get too comfortable being stuck in a victim mindset).

If there is something you don’t understand, don’t agree with, or feel upset about with your counselor, don’t just quit. First, attempt to talk about what bothered you.

For example, suppose your counselor is repeatedly late for your session, or your counselor falls asleep while you’re talking. This can happen. Counselors are human and they may have their own stuff going on that you don’t know about. Or if your counselor over-talks you or shames you, you need to speak up.

Why? You are there to get healthy. Part of getting healthy is speaking up when something bothers you. You aren’t just a client seeking services from a counselor. You are two people who have a real relationship, even if it is a professional one.

Sometimes there are misunderstandings, hurts, or tensions that have to be talked out in any relationship. Learning how to talk those things out or to disagree constructively or have a good conflict is part of you getting healthy. Click To Tweet

Counselors/coaches are human beings and sinners just like you. Believe me, they struggle with their own issues even if you don’t know about them. Your counselor may make some mistakes. She may be crabby, tired, or having personal struggles. The biggest difference between you and your counselor isn’t that she is more educated or more spiritual than you are. She may not be. The biggest difference is that your counselor should be very self-aware of her weaknesses, flaws, and past and current baggage and triggers and has done her own work. Hopefully, she is a healthy person but she will never be a perfect person. But she recognizes when she is getting defensive, impatient, angry, or anxious. She can own her own stuff, and take responsibility, and makes amends for mistakes she has made without shaming you or herself. If she gets defensive or makes mistakes and blames you, don’t take it personally. But it is a red flag that your counseling relationship is not healthy and you won’t get what you need to heal.

When a counselor doesn’t protect the counseling/coaching relationship, a lot of damage can occur even if the counselor is professionally competent. People have experienced huge emotional setbacks, pain, and trauma because the counselor did not have the personal maturity to hold to appropriate boundaries, to wisely handle her client’s strong emotions, or to speak the truth in love.

The best way to find a good counselor is to ask others who have gone to one and actually received help.

Another way to find a Christian counselor is to call several larger churches and ask what counselor they refer people to. If you hear one or two names mentioned repeatedly, try those counselors first. If those counselors’ schedules are full and they are not able to take you right away, they often will give you the names of other counselors that they work with and trust.

Your insurance company may have the names of counselors that they partner with to provide counseling services to their subscribers.

When you make your phone call to make an appointment, it is appropriate to ask some initial questions over the phone. This will help you gather information about their level of experience and expertise as well as give you a sense of who they are in the way they speak with you over the phone and respond to your questions. If they refuse, or are impatient or shaming in any way, move on to the next person on your list.

Questions you may want to ask:

What are their fees per session? Do they have a sliding scale if you can’t afford their fees?

Do they take your medical insurance? You may not want to use insurance and that is fine. Some clients are very queasy about confidentiality and some insurance companies ask a lot of questions. This is your choice.

Once you’re in counseling with someone if you choose to use your insurance ask your counselor what your diagnosis is and what she is going to write in the treatment plan before she submits it. You have a right to know because this diagnosis can have ramifications later on. (Such as applications for life insurance, adopting a child, or child custody disputes).

What is the counselor’s experience in working with brain injuries? Abusive relationships? With emotional abuse? With trauma? (Or whatever you are going to counseling for).

What books have they read on the subject? (See if they can answer you before you supply titles). If they are secular counselors and you want some expertise in abuse see if they are familiar with Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That: Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, and Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. If they are Christian counselors see if they have read my books The Emotionally Destructive Marriage or The Emotionally Destructive Relationship or others that you have found helpful.

Have they taken any continuing education classes on Domestic Violence or abuse related subjects? If so, which ones?

What are their professional credentials? Are they licensed? How long have they been in practice? A psychiatrist is an MD and is appropriate if medication is involved, but rarely does any counseling. A licensed psychologist is usually a PH.D and can administer psychological tests such as an MMPI or other tests. An LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker, has a master’s degree in social work and several years of supervised clinical counseling experience. An LPC is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree and several years of supervised clinical counseling experience. An MFT is a marriage and family therapist with a master’s degree in that discipline. If they are licensed, they will also have been supervised by a more experienced professional.

There are also lay counselors, church counselors, pastoral counselors, coaches, and mentors who offer some sort of people helping. When choosing who you are going to work with, understand their level of expertise. You would not elect to have heart surgery with a dentist or even a general physician. Do your homework.

Does the counselor have a Christian orientation, and does she incorporate her faith into her counseling? If prayer is important to you, ask if she will pray with you.

Can you make an initial appointment for a consultation?

The last question gives you the option to go for a session and check them out to see if you feel comfortable and are able to open up to this person. If for any reason after you have your first appointment you don’t feel it’s the right fit, you do not have to reschedule another appointment.

This may seem like work, but your well-being and health take work and you want to partner with the right person. It’s better to take 3 weeks to find the right person than to spend 6 weeks with the wrong person in counseling and then be more discouraged with the process.

Friends, I have two questions. I’d love you to respond to one or both. 1. How did you go about finding a good counselor or coach? 2. Were you able to speak up when you were unhappy about something and what happened next?


  1. Susan on December 30, 2020 at 10:28 am

    If Confidentiality is broken at any time, terminate the sessions. This is a professional breach and the Information revealed can further harm you.
    If you begin counseling or coaching sessions and find that though the person is licensed, credentialed, a Christian, works with a reputable group, claims experience, but their lack of experience regarding your needs becomes apparent, you will need to terminate the sessions. Many counselors and coaches want or need the business and overestimate their ability to assist you. It will most likely be up to you terminate the sessions if they are not helpful. Don’t continue to waste time and money with someone who isn’t qualified thinking it will improve. The best way to avoid this is to know what you need and have a list of specific needs. If trauma and abuse are prominent needs, make this known up front. Ask for information about experience with trauma/abuse victims – not only experience with PTSD experience but also with Complex PTSD, treatment approaches, etc.

  2. JoAnn on December 30, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    All of Leslie’s advice is very helpful and important. As she suggested, getting a name from someone you know who has been helped would be the first place to check. However, for those of you who don’t even know where to start looking for a counselor, The American Association of Christian Counselors has a directory on their web site. Members of AACC are held to a strong code of ethics, which you can read on the web site. Please note: there are some counselors who are christians, and then there are those who practice faith-based christian counseling. Eventually, the bottom line is that you feel comfortable and understood, and you have a sense that the person you are talking with has a genuine concern for your well-being and is competent to help. If, after a few sessions, you don’t have a sense that you are getting some real help, it might be good to discuss that with the counselor or move on to another one. You can also ways find someone who will listen empathically to your problems, but if you want help to move forward, you might have to find someone who will help you to actually “do the work,” which means getting a bit uncomfortable in the process. I think that the most important aspect of this search is to pray, asking the Lord to take you to the best person that He wants to use to help you.

  3. CBPP on December 30, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    Please look up to read her info and listen to podcasts and read blog articles. She is brain health educator, coach and consultant with excellent training ( the Couples Institute) in individual and marriage therapy and a background in brain injury.

  4. Tracey on December 30, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    My physician who is a Christian recommended the therapist I work with. Even though she is not a Christian, she respects my faith. It was also important that worked with someone who did not have preconceived ideas about my experience or the outcome of my sessions with her.

  5. Connie on December 30, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    I went to several counselors who met all the criteria. They were empathetic, they had the credentials, good reputation, totally understood where I was coming from, etc. Until. Until they got my h in the office, and all was lost. Suddenly I was the grease smear in the corner. They even read my journal. Then told me I’d made it all up. Why would I do that???? It took someone with spiritual discernment. There were 2 counselors in the office, and it was even couples’ counseling. When they weren’t sure, they would pray. Sometimes say, “Let’s go home and pray some more, and tomorrow let’s see what God said.” They didn’t have a big college degree. ‘Just’ years of time with God, learning to listen to His voice, and an apprenticeship with others who were in that same ministry.
    I also find that this advice here is all good, but I just can’t follow it without the Holy Spirit sorting it out and putting it in perspective and personal order AND giving grace and power to pull it off. Otherwise I’m leaning on my own or someone else’s understanding and strength. Then why be a Christian? Anyone can do that.

    • Aly on December 31, 2020 at 9:40 am

      I’m sad to hear about such a horrible experience while trying to get some interventions in place for your Marriage situation.
      This does not sound like the criteria of someone or (2) understanding abusive dynamics and especially emotional or mental abuse between two people.
      I find many people in the church who offer these types of services are very dismissive about these unhealthy behaviors/attitudes in marriage etc. some of them even have these going on in there own marriage and can’t see it!!!
      The Holy Spirit is critical in this, as with anything in our lives. But we must also lean on other wise people who have discernment and credentials in these areas of abuse especially if we are currently navigating through.

      I had one very good counselor be honest and tell me that they were not comfortable with ‘couples counseling’ because it about them and their own weaknesses. They felt they helped a lot more people individually and felt there were certain trained therapists that were well gifted in these areas.

      What is the biggest core issue that needs changing in your relationship? Are the counselors strong enough to be honest with you and your spouse about your individual issues?
      For example, you may not know how to express when you feel unloved or dismissed.
      He -you h may be very controlling and not respect you as a person who separate needs in the relationship that are not his needs.
      Note: If your h is clearly abusive on many levels that that is on a whole different way of counseling.

      • Connie on December 31, 2020 at 2:15 pm

        Oh, I know how to express how I feel, but he simply throws it back in my face. H uses every method but love to get what he wants – to live like a bachelor with a maid – his words. Guilting, blackmail, trying to make me jealous, DARVO, withholding, or being nice when I detach. So, I stay detached. His favourite occupations are computer and self pity, so my detaching gives him all that. It’s interesting to observe all the little tricks. When he whines, ” What do you want me to DO? “, I say, “The truth would set you free” , and leave. Unless he becomes willing to be scrupulously honest about everything, it’s just a pile of head games. I can’t make him do that. If I ‘require’ anything of him, the games begin. So I live my best life and smile and nod a lot.
        Dr. Phil had on a couple recently where the h was treating his wife just like mine does. He had a financial advisor come on the show, who said that when this happens, he is always hiding something. Always. Could be financial, an affair, or any number of things. I thought that was interesting.

        • moonbeam on December 31, 2020 at 8:21 pm

          What would happen if the maid went on strike? When he asks what he wants you to do, I would suggest he write a list of all the times he ever manipulated another person. He could begin with his earliest childhood memory and work to the present day. Apparently, this exercise can be completed by those ready to come out of denial. If the abuser won’t do the exercise, he is not remotely interested in being honest with himself or you.

          I know you can’t require him to do anything. Just the mention of it would threaten his control. I am sorry you can’t leave your living arrangement. Isolate as best as you can and ignore his comments. You deserve to be treated so much better in 2021.

          • Connie on December 31, 2020 at 9:10 pm

            On strike? He wouldn’t care. Make a list? He wouldn’t remember. Play the dumb act. “Huh? What do you mean by manipulate?” I know what he will say, so why even ask? I know he’s not remotely interested in changing . For being such a scrooge, it always surprises me how much money he is willing to spend on counseling just for the fun of the game of making yet another flying monkey.

            I must say, this is quite an education for me. I never knew that there were so many manipulators out there.

  6. Aly on December 31, 2020 at 11:08 am

    To all,
    I’m not sure if everyone is getting updated comments? I only get sporadic ones. Kristen posted a really great comment from last weeks topic and I would recommend reading it, especially if you have been accused for not loving or forgiving in a process of detaching in a relationship. It was well said!

    • Leslie Vernick on January 1, 2021 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks for letting us know. I’ll have my admin check into this.

    • Debi Drake on January 1, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      I do not receive updated responses either

  7. moon beam on December 31, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    I wanted to respond to the question asking if I was able to speak up when I was unhappy and what happened next.

    I was under the impression that the counselor we selected was experienced in trauma. He worked under the office of a famous Christian trauma counselor (DL) in Pennsylvania. When I called DL’s office, she was not available, so we saw J. When it became apparent that J was being manipulated by my abuser, he joined ranks and dismissed and belittled me. An agreed upon goal of our counseling experience was to create and enforce an accountability contract. it was designed by all parties to protect me and so give my abuser the opportunity to heal and change his ways.

    I called the counselor to report abuse and activate the consequences of the contract. He said I was not to call him unless I was in physical danger. Any other concerns could wait until our next appointment.

    At the next appointment he wanted to talk about sex and my obligations as a wife to give my husband more sex. Yes…shocking… from a supposed trauma counselor. I notified his employer, the famed DL. She did not return my call. Instead, J returned the call and told be to never leave a message for his boss again. I told J my concerns. I was living in fear. My abuser was on the warpath and had a history of multiple restraining orders in the past. J, never called again. He said he would get bak to me and didn’t.

    I stopped seeing J. My abuser continued with J for another year. Now every time I see DL on a video being promoted as an expert in trauma care, I want to vomit. The books she wrote are placed all around the waiting room and are offered for sale. Good luck finding her, though. Sadly, her practice caused me more trauma than any other provider I found. I think it was the fact that DL was promoted as a Christian, and an expert, so I trusted her. What I received in return was to be dismissed, belittled, mocked and silenced. On top of that, I had to pay cash for the crazy injustice too. Ugh!

    • Leslie Vernick on January 1, 2021 at 4:15 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that. I know DL personally and consider her a colleague and professional of the highest ethics. My guess is she had no idea what went on or was lied to by this J. Sometimes people we hire are also good liars and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Did you report him to the licensing board of PA?

      • moonbeam on January 1, 2021 at 6:54 pm

        I was unaware that I could report a provider to a licensing board in such a situation. I still don’t understand why DL didn’t return my calls and matched us with an inexperienced provider. No action was taken towards him despite my complaints. It was her name that I wrote the checks out to and her practice which cashed my checks. Shameful!

        • moonbeam on January 1, 2021 at 7:26 pm

          I would like to add that eventually we did get good help. Our pastor recommended a therapist from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philly. EL was a professional. It only took her one assessment to diagnosis the cluster B personality disorder, narcissism. She immediately split us up for my protection. She then designed an action plan which included all kinds of homework. My abuser attended the Men’s Resource Center program in Philly, a sexual violence support group of some kind in NJ and took an art class and began volunteer work at her suggestion. She was trying to teach him to have empathy.

          It was determined that I was mentally healthy and did not need therapy. All counseling efforts went towards my abuser and he continued with that provider for a number of years. For about five months he tried to change or at least went through the motions of trying to contain his manipulative acts. Eventually his personality or demonic spirits over took him yet again. His violent rages made all of us unsafe.

          • Aly on January 1, 2021 at 9:37 pm

            So very sorry! This is awful!
            I am glad that you did get protection and good counsel eventually.
            Personally, I think any of us who experience a certain amount of ‘relationship with anyone who doesn’t have empathy -or needs treatment for empathy development, needs therapeutic care’
            It’s different care, it’s different types of sessions and process.

  8. Sunshine on January 2, 2021 at 5:30 am

    My employer provided five free sessions with a therapist as part of their work life program. I could pick a counselor, none of which were Christians, from a list they provided.

    I selected a woman who listened to my living situation with a wide eyed gasps. She said I could be one of her girl friends. She couldn’t believe I functioned so remarkably well in such a terrible and terrorizing marriage. “How are you doing this?” She ended up listening and learning from me. So, as you can imagine, those five sessions were useless. Well, useless unless you consider that I got to tell her about Jesus and the life and thought processes of a Christian woman.

  9. Barbara B on January 2, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    To find a good counselor, I like to ask my friends where they have gone, whether they liked the counselor, and why or why not. Also, I ask specifically what they learned in counseling and how long they spent with the counselor.

    My perspective is that I am an employer and the counselor is my employee. That helps me remember to ask the right questions in the first session, just as I would if I were interviewing applicants for any kind of job. What are your qualifications? Experience? Training? Etc. A good question to ask a marriage counselor is, Have you ever split the couple into separate individual counseling session; if yes, why?

    My favorite counselor I’ve ever had would always stop and ask me, “What do you think? What’s your perspective?” I felt completely safe answering that question because he always thanked me and told me how important it was for him to know my views, whether positive or negative.

    One thing I always love to hear a counselor say is, “Let’s pray about that.” I also appreciate hearing, “When I was praying for you this week…” As others have said, if the Holy Spirit is not involved then the counseling will not have the same power and efficacy.

  10. Moon Beam on January 11, 2021 at 7:41 am

    Probably the best way to find a competent counselor is through networking with other abused women. They know who is good and who isn’t. If you are not able to meet other survivors, at least start visiting internet sites and get educated on the subject through podcasts and tutorial. The best pod cast I listened to recently was by Dr. Wade Mullen. He speaks to spirit abuse and evil. Spot on for what many of us are living through right now.

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