Still acclimating to being home. I’ve lost a few things in the transition that I can’t find and it’s driving me crazy. This Saturday I’m speaking at the Desire Conference in Scranton, PA. It’s a conference for church leaders and people helpers. Would love to see you there. Register here.
I am excited to tell you about a free webinar that I’m doing on The Emotionally Destructive Relationship April 29, at 7:30 pm ET for 1 hour. If you know someone who is struggling in a toxic relationship – not only marriage but other kinds of destructive relationships and needs some help in understanding what is going on, invite them to sign up for this free webinar. If you’re unable to attend, no worries, you’ll get a recording of the webinar, but only if you sign up ahead of time.
In last week’s blog someone asked how to find a good counselor. Some readers responded with some great advice but I thought I would give you the things to look for and questions to ask so you have the best chance of finding someone who will truly help you.
What to Look When Seeking a Counselor
There are two crucial ingredients that are important in finding a good counselor and cost is not one of them. The first one is the expertise of the counselor the second is the personhood of the counselor. Let’s start with the second ingredient.
A good fit between you and the counselor cannot be underestimated. Relational pain and trauma is experienced within bad relationships and personal and relational healing is experienced within healthy relationships. The counselor must be able to model the ingredients of a healthy relationship with his or her client. For a Christian counselor it goes even deeper. The Christian counselor has the responsibility to represent Christ to their client so that their client gets an experience of what God’s grace and God’s love is like.
You want your counselor to listen carefully to your story. To not interrupt or put words in your mouth. You want him or her to validate your feelings, encourage your growth and help you set appropriate goals. (tweet this)
You don’t want someone who will just hold your hand and comfort you – you can get a friend to do that. Your counselor 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 comfortable, safe, understood and pushed in a good way to get to the next step of your journey. (Sometimes we can get too comfortable feeling stuck).
If there is something you feel uncomfortable about with your counselor, talk with her about it before terminating. This is wise for two reasons. You are building a therapeutic relationship together. You aren’t just client and counselor but you are two people who have a relationship and sometimes there are misunderstandings, hurts, or tensions that have to be talked out. Learning how to talk those things out or to disagree constructively or have a good conflict is part of you getting healthy.
Counselors are human beings and sinners just like you. Therefore your counselor may make some mistakes. She may be crabby, tired or having her own personal struggles. The biggest difference between you and your counselor isn’t that he or she is more educated or more spiritual than you are. She may not be. The biggest difference is that your counselor should be very aware of his or her weaknesses, flaws, past and current baggage and triggers.
Hopefully she is a healthy person but she will never be a perfect person. She recognizes when she is getting defensive, impatient, angry or anxious. She can own her own stuff, and takes responsibility and makes amends for mistakes she has made without toxic shame or self-hatred. If she gets defensive or makes mistakes and blames you, don’t take it personally. But it is a sign that your counseling relationship is not healthy and you won’t get what you need to heal.
When a counselor doesn’t protect the therapy relationship a lot of damage can occur, even if he or she is professionally competent. People have experienced setbacks, more 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 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 insurance company may have names of counselors that they partner with to provide counseling services to their subscribers.
When you make your initial phone call it is very appropriate to ask some initial questions. 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.
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 managed care insurance companies ask a lot of questions).
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.
- What is their experience in working with abuse? 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 needed if medication is involved. A licensed psychologist is usually a PH.D and can often administer psychological tests such as an MNPI or other tests. A LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker, has a masters degree in social work and several years of supervised clinical counseling experience. A LPC is a licensed professional counselor with a masters degree and several years of supervised clinical counseling experience. A MFT is a marriage and family therapist with a masters degree in that discipline. If they are licensed they will also have supervised hours. 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 have heart surgery by a dentist or even a general physician. Do your homework.
- Do they have a Christian orientation and do they incorporate their faith into their counseling? If it’s important that they pray with you, ask them.
- 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.
Here are some words from women I asked who went to counseling, what they found most helpful and most negative in their experiences:
What were the things you found most helpful from your counselor?
Being able to express my thoughts and feelings. Being heard. Talking about my past and receiving hope for the future. Being questioned about why I think the way I do and receiving a different perspective. – Stacy
My counselor really listened to me. – Kim
I had a Christian counselor, and she validated me and my feelings and helped me work through my problems. – Maxine
It was a safe place to share anything I wanted to say and know for sure it was confidential (such a rare thing these days, confidentiality!) At times, I felt the counselor was trying to take me down his path to wellness, but for the most part, he allowed me to gain resources to go on my own path through the grief and on to wholeness and happiness. – Melissa
Godly wisdom, a listening empathetic ear, loving correction of flawed thinking, making me consider and answer hard questions. It was not something I always looked forward to, knowing it would bring up pain, but I left knowing it was needful and good for me. – Gina
It was good to talk to an objective person who was really listening to me and could help me. She didn’t condemn me or bring up Scripture or Christian clichés. She gave me insight into the root of my feelings and helped identify ways I could improve my situation. She suggested helpful resources. Her gentleness and kindness was appreciated. – Karen
It was very helpful to have my feelings validated, especially about how I saw some of my marital problems. It was reassuring to have confirmation from a neutral third party that some of my husband’s attitudes and behaviors are not healthy and not emotionally supportive of me. – Wendy
My counselor has been telling me that my thoughts are not crazy like most people make me feel. – Sharon
I have been in counseling off and on for years. I have learned that finding a Christian counselor that “fit” is the #1 priority. – Sarah
What was most negative in your counseling experience?
The first Christian counselor I saw just told me to suck it up and be submissive. – Lois
Sometimes I would leave the session thinking I didn’t say anything right and feel very discouraged. I would think that everything the counselor said was right, as though she could read my mind. I didn’t realize that I needed to correct her wrong assumptions. Most of the time I agreed with her because I didn’t know how I felt. I had blocked out so many feelings and memories that I was just numb. – Sue
Crossing of professional boundaries and the therapist trying very hard to have me see things his way. – Edie
My counselor made me feel like if I didn’t jump through her hoops she would give up on me. She showed favoritism toward my husband. She turned to work with him if I didn’t or couldn’t do what she wanted me to. And that increased my depression. – Julie
Through our church, I found a husband and wife team and have seen the man a few times. The counselor liked to cross his legs and then uncross them and say “Change. It’s as simple as that.” I was banging my head against the wall wondering why I couldn’t have enough faith, enough trust, and enough courage to shake myself out of depression. – Sarah
Friends: How about you. Have you had a positive or negative experience with your counselor? If negative, were you able to speak up and if so, what happened?