How to Choose a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counseling can be an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health issues, from relationship problems to anxiety. Talking about your thoughts and feelings in a supportive, confidential environment can help you navigate your mental health, gain insight, and feel better. Plus, it feels good to be listened to—to know that someone cares about you and wants to help.

You don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental health condition to benefit from counseling or psychotherapy. In fact, many people in therapy seek help for everyday concerns, including stress management and low self-esteem. Others turn to therapy during difficult times, such as stressful life transitions or addiction. But to reap its benefits, it’s essential to choose the right mental health counselor—someone you trust, feel comfortable with, and who has the experience to help you make positive changes. A good counselor can help you recognize your strengths, become more self-aware, and live a happier, healthier life.

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What type of mental health professional should you choose?

Finding the right mental health professional will likely take some time and effort, but it’s well worth it. Forming a deep, open relationship with your provider is essential. Above all else, you need someone you can trust—someone you feel comfortable opening up to about complex subjects and who will be a partner in your recovery.

Counseling will be significantly more successful if you develop this bond, so take some time to research different types of mental health professionals and mental health services to figure out the right fit for you. Some types of mental health practitioners who can provide diagnoses and psychotherapy services include:

  • Psychologists. Clinical psychologists have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, as well as a doctoral degree in psychology. Clinical psychologists are also licensed in clinical psychology.
  • Social workers. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree in social work, and additional clinical experience.
  • Marriage and family therapists. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and clinical experience in marriage and family therapy.
  • Counselors. Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs), Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs), and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LPCCs) have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and clinical experience in mental health counseling.
  • Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health care and prescribe medication.

Be sure that the provider you choose is licensed to provide mental health services in your state.

In the United States, specific licensing and certification requirements depend on the particular type of provider, specialty area, and state law. For example, many professional mental health counselors attend graduate programs that receive accreditation from The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a national organization that accredits masters and doctoral degree programs in counseling.

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What’s the best way to search for a counselor?

Finding the right counselor can be time-consuming and challenging, and some people might not know where to begin. Fortunately, when it comes to finding a mental health counselor, you have several options to find a therapist. Some helpful resources to find a counselor include:

  • Health insurance. Ask your insurance company for a list of covered mental health practitioners. Many insurance companies provide an online database of providers that they cover.
  • Referrals. Ask for a referral or recommendation from your primary care physician or another trusted clinician. Alternatively, if you have friends or family members in therapy, consider asking them for a recommendation.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Check whether your employee assistance program (EAP) or university’s health center offers mental health services or referrals.
  • Professional associations. Many professional occupation associations in the mental health field, including the American Psychological Association and American Counseling Association, offer online directories of mental health professionals. Professional associations can help you find mental health professionals in private practice who may not be listed on other websites.
  • Crisis intervention centers. Local crisis intervention centers offer mental health care for individuals experiencing mental health crises, as well as training and educational course programs on mental wellness.
  • Community service agencies and local organizations. If you’re searching for more affordable mental health care, many community centers, family service agencies, and local clinics offer affordable mental health care and sliding-scale payment options.
  • Online therapy platforms. Online therapy platforms like WithTherapy help connect clients to mental health specialists based on their personal preferences and requirements.

What should you look for in a mental health counselor?

When it comes to finding the right fit, it’s normal to shop around and ask questions. Some things to consider when searching for a mental health counselor include:

  • Experience and specialty. One of the main reasons for choosing mental health counseling, rather than talking to a friend or family member, is experience. During your search, look for a counselor with experience treating your specific mental health issues. In most cases, counselors have specific areas of expertise, such as behavioral disorders or substance abuse problems. Specialists have experience evaluating and assisting patients in similar situations and helping individuals deal with the problems you’re currently facing, which allows them to provide insight into your mental and emotional health. For some mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), working with a specialist is essential.
  • Licensing and credentials. Credentials are necessary, and it’s crucial to make sure your counselor has a current license and is in good standing with your state’s regulatory board. Additionally, be sure to check for complaints against the counselor.
  • Different treatment orientations. Many counselors practice different types of psychotherapy. To help narrow your search, learn about different treatment types, as this can affect your counselor’s specific treatment structure. Some mental health practitioners focus on individual therapy, while others offer group therapy, family therapy, and couples counseling.
  • Whether they offer medication, mental health counseling, or both. Some specialists are not licensed to prescribe medications. As a result, your choice may depend on your concern and the severity of your psychological symptoms. If you’re interested in using medication to improve your symptoms, you may need to work with more than one clinician. For example, you may need to see a psychiatrist for medication management and a psychologist for psychotherapy.
  • Whether they offer online psychotherapy services. If you live in a rural area or you’re juggling a hectic schedule, finding the time to schedule an appointment might feel impossible. With online mental health counseling, you can access mental health care from the comfort of your own home—all you need is an Internet connection.

What should you expect during counseling?

Although every mental health practitioner is different, there are some similarities in how psychotherapy sessions are structured. In most cases, counseling sessions will last about an hour, and you’ll meet with your mental health counselor once a week. For more intensive therapy, your counselor may recommend more frequent sessions.

Counseling is generally conducted in an office setting, but psychotherapists also work in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and local government offices. Under expanded HIPAA regulations, more psychotherapists are offering online counseling services.

Whether you’re trying mental health counseling for the first time or you’re transitioning to online mental health care, here’s what you can expect during your first few sessions.

  • Expect a good fit between you and your mental health specialist. Feeling comfortable with your therapist is integral to your mental health, and you should never settle for a bad fit. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your counselor after a few sessions, you may need to continue your search.
  • Therapy is a partnership. You and your therapist should contribute to your sessions. Your therapist should provide insight, advice, and empathy during your sessions. Depending on the type of therapy, your mental health counselor may also give you coursework to complete for your next session.
  • Therapy can feel uncomfortable at times. Therapy is a highly personal experience, and painful memories or feelings might surface. This is a normal part of the healing process, and your mental health counselor will guide you through these feelings.
  • Therapy should feel like a safe place. Even though you might feel sad, angry, or frustrated during sessions, you should always feel safe. If you dread your sessions, be sure to communicate this to your counselor.

Your first mental health counseling session is an excellent opportunity to form a mutual connection. It allows your therapist to learn more about you and your mental health issues. Your mental health specialist might ask for more information on your mental and physical health history, whether you’ve attended therapy before, and what concerns you might have.

During your first session, it’s a good idea to talk to your provider about what you hope to achieve. If you’re interested in group sessions, medication, or a specific type of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy, or psychodynamic therapy don’t hesitate to ask questions. Together, you can set goals and develop a treatment plan that helps you measure progress along the way.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re living with anxiety, dealing with marital problems, or searching for a safe space to express your feelings, putting your mental well-being in the hands of the right person is essential.

To find the right mental health counselor, reach out to a specialist at the Therapy Group of DC. We’ll connect you to a therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the licensed psychologists at the Therapy Group of DC will help you navigate your mental health concerns to live a more fulfilling life.

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