Considerations for Choosing a Counselor

What to look for in a provider


“Healing can be really uncomfortable, and working with my therapist helps me stick with my healing in a self-compassionate way. In building a supportive working relationship with my therapist based on mutual respect, I feel empowered to build healthier relationships throughout my life.”
– Sarah

There are multiple factors you may want to consider when selecting a counselor or treatment center: the types of insurance they accept, their specialization, or where their office is located all impact whether they are a good fit for you.

However, it is also important that you feel comfortable working with the person providing your care. The connection between you and your counselor is important towards being able to be open with them, and to be able to work collaboratively towards your goals for therapy.

Not many people know that as you start looking for a provider, you can “shop around” and talk to multiple counselors or treatment locations before deciding where you want to get treatment.

You are free to call a potential counselor or treatment center before committing to receiving care from them. This initial conversation will allow you to make sure they are reputable and help you to get a sense of whether you would be comfortable working with them. Consider using the following question prompts to help you decide if they are the right provider for you:

  • What are their professional credentials? Look for an advanced degree, certification, or any specializations.
  • Do they have experience working with people who have similar cultural background or identities as you, and can they provide culturally sensitive treatment?
  • Do they specialize in any specific issue? Do they have experience working with certain types of problems or diagnoses?
  • Are there strategies or specific intervention styles that they like to use in counseling? What are the tools they use during therapy?
  • What are their strengths as a counselor?
  • What is the cost of treatment? How much will you pay and how much will your insurance cover?
  • What is their scheduling availability? Do they have appointments during the times when you can attend?

Learn more: Culturally sensitive treatment

Culturally sensitive treatment supports and celebrates a client’s multiple identities. These could include cultural background, gender identity, language, or religious beliefs. A culturally sensitive provider will not assume that certain treatment methods are beneficial to all clients and will work to tailor their treatment strategies to what best serves each individual client.

Learn more: Intervention styles

There are a variety of theories within the field of psychology about how to best help individuals move into recovery and into mental wellness - these are called intervention styles or modalities. Some of these interventions are evidence-based, meaning research has shown that they are effective for most people. Your counselor should be able to articulate what interventions they use and why.

Although the counselors you interview may have different theories about recovery and diverse techniques for treatment, all healthcare providers are required to uphold certain standards:

  • They are required to protect your confidentiality, meaning they protect your identity and keep the content of your counseling sessions and other healthcare records private. However, there are two reasons a counselor might have to break confidentiality. First, if you sign a release allowing them to discuss your treatment with another person or organization; second, if you are threatening to hurt yourself or others, then a counselor is obligated to disclose this information to keep you and others safe.
  • In some cases, such as treatment for alcohol and drug use, the counselor is prohibited from telling others if you are enrolled in treatment at all.
  • Counselors are prohibited from having romantic relationships with their clients.
  • Ethical counseling begins with an assessment of your problems and the development of a treatment plan. This plan is developed with you and should include your preferences about the kind of treatment you want and how often and how long treatment is expected to last.

Additional resources:
  • Download the checklist of questions to ask a provider.
  • Explore guidelines from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers on what to look for in a treatment program, red flags, and questions to ask a potential treatment center to make sure they’re the right fit.
  • Search for a substance use or mental health provider.

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