Guidelines for Choosing a Psychotherapist or Counselor

by Diane Browning, MA, LMHC

Choosing a counselor is a very personal decision. Counselors are individuals with their own personality and style in addition to their experience and training; often it will be a combination of factors that leads you to choose someone that feels right for you. Information on our site regarding experience, specialties, and insurance can be valuable. In addition, the individual profiles can give you an idea of how someone might approach your issues. We hope that reading all of this information will give you some sense of the person before making an appointment. However, meeting the person face-to-face is the only way to know if this will be a good fit.

There is no one ‘right’ way to choose a psychotherapist or counselor. Some people choose someone by asking a friend, doctor, or insurance company for a referral. Some people choose one person and make an appointment immediately, while others may interview several people before making a decision. There is usually a charge for face-to-face consultations, although most counselors will answer brief questions over the phone that can help with your decision. At the bottom of the page are some questions and ideas to consider that may be helpful when interviewing potential therapists.

At the end of the initial interview, you may decide immediately to make another appointment, or you may decide to think about it for a few days. You might think about the feelings you had during the interview by using the questions below as a guide. It is your decision whether this is someone you would like to trust as your therapist or counselor. Starting therapy may bring with it feelings of nervousness or anxiety but you should feel a certain level of comfort and trust that the person can help you. You should feel free to discuss any reservations with the counselor and if these continue you may want to interview someone else to see if you can find a better fit.

Possible Questions to Ask When Choosing A Counselor
Rather than asking specific questions, you may prefer to simply begin to talk about your problem with the therapist. You’ll get a sense of how she or he works by the way the interaction proceeds.

  • Do you have a sense that the therapist is interested? Asks pertinent questions?
  • Do you feel listened to and understood?
  • If there are suggestions made, do they resonate with you?
  • Does the amount of back and forth interaction between the counselor and you match your style and comfort level?

This initial session may give you all the information you need in order to make the decision to proceed or not.

If you’d like more specific information, here are some questions to consider asking:

  • What is your approach to therapy? How might you work with me about my problem?
  • Have you worked with others with my problem?
  • What is your education? (Refer to the home page for information on credentials.) Just as there are a variety of terms used to describe the professionals in this field (“counselor” “psychotherapist” “therapist” “social worker” “psychologist”), there are a variety of degrees. The specific degree usually doesn’t matter if it is in the human services field. However, licensure in the State of Washington indicates further training, supervision, and ongoing continuing education.
  • Do you have additional training/certification?
  • What are your fees? Do you accept insurance?
  • Questions about biases or values. Therapists should be open to listening and accepting you where you are regarding your issues. However, if you have particular concerns about your specific situation or about someone’s possible biases, you may want to ask specific questions to alleviate your concerns. For example, if you have concerns about being accepted for your lifestyle choice or religious beliefs, it is appropriate to voice these concerns.