Question: I have had a couple of bad counseling experiences. I’d like to find a good Christian counselor but have no idea how to go about it. Any suggestions?
Answer: Probably the most frequent question I’m asked on my website is whether I know a competent Christian counselor in a particular geographic area that I can recommend. Finding someone who you trust and can relate to is not always easy. Here are a few tips that you may find helpful in seeking help.
The most important thing to look for is a good fit between yourself and your potential counselor. You must feel comfortable, safe, and understood. The best way to find a good counselor is to ask others who have gone to one and received satisfactory help. Word of mouth is usually the best referral. Ask your pastor, your youth leader, or other ministry leader who they would recommend or go to themselves if the need arose.
If you’re not comfortable asking someone directly, another way to find a Christian counselor is to call several larger churches in your area and ask what counselor they refer people to. They may have a counselor on site or a church staff counselor. That doesn’t mean they won’t give you other names as well. If you are seeking a counselor with a particular expertise, ask about that that specifically. For example, if you want a counselor competent in areas of domestic violence, or depression, or eating disorders, say so. If you hear one or two names repeatedly mentioned, give those counselors a call to inquire about their services. If their schedule is 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 doctor may also have the names of counselors he or she refers to when necessary. Your insurance company will also often have names of counselors that they partner with to provide counseling services to their subscribers. This is a broad list but sometimes they do list Christian counselors as a separate category.
If you don’t get anywhere through those resources, try using the internet.
American Association of Christian Counselors: www.aacc.net
American Association of Pastoral Counselors: www.aapc.org
Christian Association for Psychological Studies: www.caps.net
Each of these organizations keeps a data base of counselors who have submitted applications in order to be referred by these organizations. You can type in your zip code and they will give you a listing of counselors closest to your area.
When you make your initial phone call you may feel nervous. That is normal so be prepared so that you can get the information you need to decide whether you want to make an appointment. It is very appropriate to ask some questions such as:
• What are their fees per session? Some counselors work on a sliding scale, others do not but reduce their fees substantially for certain categories of people such as those in full time Christian service or single moms. If finances are an issue, it doesn’t hurt to ask that up front.
• Do they take your medical insurance? Again some counselors do and others do not. There are so many different insurance plans that even with major insurance companies such as Blue Cross, benefit plans are not the same. The counselor may agree to bill your insurance but if your insurance does not reimburse, ultimately you are financially responsible for services rendered by the counselor.
• What are their professional credentials and how long have they been counseling? In addition to that, ask them if they are licensed to practice counseling. Each state has certain educational requirements as well as supervised hours of practicum in order to obtain licensure in a particular discipline. Insurance companies only reimburse licensed counselors or those under the direct supervision of a licensed counselor or psychologist. If someone says they are a Christian counselor that does not necessarily mean they are licensed or educated as a counselor. Some states do not require pastoral counselors to be licensed. That does not mean a pastor counselor cannot be a very wise and effective counselor. It’s just important that you know up front.
• What is their experience in working with the problem you are seeking help for? Just like you would usually seek a cardiologist for heart problems and a neurologist for headaches, not all counselors have expertise in every area. If possible, seek someone with the most experience working in the area that troubles you.
• Do they have a Christian orientation and do they incorporate that into their counseling? Is it important to you that your counselor use the scriptures in your counseling? How about prayer?
• Can you make an initial appointment for a consultation?
That last question gives you the option to go and check them out to see if you feel comfortable with and able to open up to this person. If for any reason after you have your first appointment you feel uncomfortable, you do not have to reschedule another appointment.
But understand that the counselor is a fallen human being just like you. He or she does not have magic powers to read your mind or figure out everything you need without you telling him or her. If you are uncomfortable, talk about it. If you don’t understand something, ask.
By about the third or fourth session you and your counselor should have set some preliminary goals on what you hope to get out of counseling and how you will work to get there. Some counselors are very hands on and directive, giving homework assignments and practice applications. Others say hardly anything but listen carefully and help you talk and wrestle through things. If you need more direction say so. If you need to be listened to more, speak up. Learning to be honest about who you are and how you feel is essential to your emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being and the counseling relationship needs to be a place where you can practice these skills.
If in the past you have not been in affirming relationships that are characterized by honesty, respect, caring, and warmth, it may take you some time to feel comfortable in the counseling relationship. Give yourself and the counselor some time to make that connection.
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