What Can Counselling Do For Me? And How Do I Choose A Therapist?
Written by Jennifer Baker
What is counselling?
Counselling, also known as psychotherapy, or even just “therapy”, involves a voluntary professional relationship between a client and a qualified mental health professional, where the overall aim of the process is to work together to help the client live a more satisfying and balanced life. Counselling relationships and treatment plans may vary according to need of the client and the particular style of the counsellor or therapist, but all types of counselling therapy have the ultimate goal of helping the client solve, cope with, or accept the particular issues they are facing. These issues may include those relating to emotional distress, making decisions, developing personal insights and increased self-awareness, addressing and resolving specific problems, healing from trauma, coping with crisis, improving relationships, and any other challenge that people may face in their lives.
Counselling is about helping people see growth and success in their lives, and is not about advice-giving or coercing a particular outcome. It may be brief or long-term and may take place in a variety of settings. At Back in Motion, you and your counsellor will form a partnership in figuring out how to best address and resolve your concerns. Whatever you are struggling with, one of our qualified and effective counsellors may be able to help!
Choosing a Counsellor
Choosing a counsellor can be a daunting task. Clients are often in distress and just want to find someone to support and help them through it, but often struggle with how to go about finding the right counsellor. Spending time, effort, and money trying out different counsellors just to find the right fit can be incredibly frustrating.
So, where to begin? Having an understanding of the various types of mental health professionals available to you is an important step in finding the right one.
Types of Mental Health Professionals
There are many different types of mental health professionals that are qualified and licensed to work with you in British Columbia. At this time, there is no college or regulatory body that governs counselling therapists, which means that anybody can call themselves a counsellor and work with clients, despite having no formal training or education to do so. This is why it’s so important that you do a bit of research on your particular counsellor or therapist to ensure that they have the appropriate training and experience to help you, safely and effectively.
In BC, there are different designations for mental health professionals, and all play slightly different roles in our communities. The professions may overlap in how they help people, but each has a separate educational pathway to licensure.
Psychiatrists: This is a medical doctor who has specialized training in diagnosing, assessing, and treating people with psychiatric disorders. Psychiatrists may prescribe medication to their patients.
Psychologists: In BC, all registered psychologists must hold a doctorate degree in a relevant psychological discipline, such as clinical or counselling psychology. Psychologists have advanced training in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of client concerns. Psychologists do not prescribe medication to clients.
Occupational Therapists: Occupational therapists in BC have completed advanced training in their field, holding at least a Bachelor’s degree, and commonly, a Master’s degree. Occupational therapists help people to accomplish the tasks in their lives that are important to them, whether these relate to work or personal life.
Social Workers: Social workers may hold a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree in their particular field, and typically belong to the BC College of Social Workers. Social workers help members of society with any number of personal concerns, work in a variety of settings, and often provide counselling services to individuals, couples, and families, though this may not be their primary area of practice.
Counsellors / therapists / etc. In BC, these are generic terms describing all those involved in the practice of counselling therapy. Although there is no college of counselling professionals in BC, there are a few associations that appropriately trained clinicians may join to reflect their advanced education, training, and experience:
- Across Canada, counsellors may join the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, and are called Certified Canadian Counsellors (CCCs).
- In BC, marriage and family therapists who hold Master’s degrees or equivalent may register with the BC Association for Marriage and Family Therapy as Registered Marriage and Family Therapists (RMAFTs).
- In BC, one of the gold standards for counselling therapists comes through the BC Association for Clinical Counsellors (BCACC). Members of this association call themselves Registered Clinical Counsellors (RCCs), and must hold a Master’s degree in a relevant psychological discipline, have received clinical supervision in counselling therapy, and undergo regular criminal record checks. RCCs may work for agencies in the community or in their own private practices.
At Back in Motion, each of our counsellors are members in good standing with the BCACC (among other relevant associations), and go above and beyond to ensure ethical, effective practice in line with the expectations set out by their membership policies. Our RCCs each have differing areas of specialty, which means that whatever you’re seeking support with, we are likely to be able to offer skilled, experienced guidance. If you have any questions about the background or training of your counsellor, we encourage you to have this conversation with your counsellor.
Once you have an idea of what kind of mental health professional is best suited and accessible for you, it’s important to check with your extended benefits provider to see what is covered under your policy. Many providers have policies that cover RCCs for their clients.
How do I find a counsellor?
Once you’ve chosen which type of mental health professional is right for you, you may wish to start looking to see who is available in your area. In addition to word-of-mouth referrals, a great place to start this search is online. At Back in Motion, our counsellors’ names, photos, backgrounds, and specializations are already listed for you to easily read through at your convenience. If you have any other questions, please do give us a call! We will do our best to answer any questions you may have and put your mind at ease.
In addition, the following websites offer directories of counsellors that you can filter through by location or offerings of online services.
You may wish to call and speak with your prospective counsellor directly. A lot can be learned from a quick (usually free!) phone call.
How do I know what to look for?
Research into what makes counselling effective has shown that the quality of the counselling relationship, regardless of the treatment strategies used, is the main factor in determining success for therapy clients. This means that your likelihood of having success in therapy depends largely on how comfortable you feel with your counsellor and how well you work together.
You might start by asking yourself what sorts of characteristics you would prefer your counsellor to have. Some considerations may be:
- Age: Some clients prefer their counsellor to be closer in age; others prefer an older counsellor.
- Gender: Some clients prefer counsellors of the same or different gender identities.
- Religious background: Some clients prefer to know that their counsellor shares their spiritual beliefs.
In addition to the personal traits of the counsellor, you may want to consider the specific training of your counsellor, and how she/he/they plan to go about helping you solve your problems. There are many different types of therapy available for clients today – so many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming! When thinking about what type of therapy might work for you, a good place to start is to reflect on how you interact with yourself, with others, and with the world around you, and what you’re hoping to accomplish in therapy. Are you wanting help making behavioural changes? Changing negative patterns of thinking? Making a difficult decision? Alleviating symptoms of anxiety or depression? Having a good understanding of what it is you’d like help with will help you decide which counsellor is a good fit for you, as many will have their areas of expertise listed in their practice information, and you can match up your concerns with their experience. It is always a good idea to have conversations around therapy approaches in the first few sessions (and checking in regularly after that!) to make sure that your counsellor’s approach is something that fits for you.
What do I do if my counsellor isn’t a good match for me?
If your counsellor isn’t a good match for you (e.g. makes you feel uncomfortable or judged, or you believe a different counsellor or approach would be more helpful), it’s important for you to discuss this with your counsellor. If a resolution cannot be reached, then your counsellor can refer you to another professional that they believe will be a better fit. This happens more frequently than you would imagine, and it doesn’t mean that anyone has necessarily done anything wrong. Just like we don’t necessarily want to be best friends or romantically involved with everyone we meet, not every counselling relationship will “click” perfectly, either.
If you do have a serious ethical complaint, however, we encourage you to discuss this with your counsellor (if you feel comfortable), their supervisor or manager, and/or contact their professional association for guidance.
The decision to seek counselling is often a nerve-wracking yet courageous choice, and an important first step on the road to recovering your emotional, mental, and/or relationship wellness. We hope that this guide has helped to ease some questions around choosing a counsellor. If you have any further questions or concerns, or would like further information about our counselling services, encourage you to reach out to one of our Back in Motion offices and inquire about how our counsellors might support you or your loved one.
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