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  • Writer's pictureJasmine Cortazzi

How to pick a Counsellor? By a BACP Registered Counsellor

I would like to share with you what I was looking for when I was looking for a counsellor when I was facing difficult times, and as part of my training as a therapist myself.


Values and qualities

I wanted my counsellor to be nurturing and supportive, and to help me grow. Having experienced work-related trauma, it was important for me to find a therapist who could help me problem solve and access new ways of seeing and being in the world. One counsellor, who fitted the bill, had shared a brief personal disclosure to demonstrate that I was not alone in experiencing work stress. Clearly, she was professional, in keeping confidentiality, and in maintaining ethical standards, but cared enough to be open, vulnerable and authentic. I could connect with her deeply because we shared the same value system- we wanted to help others, and to create a more caring world. These values were reflected in the counsellor’s previous experience; she had worked in the NHS with women struggling with fertility and having previously taught counselling trainees on a Diploma course. This counsellor was confident to bring all of herself into the counselling room- her sense of fun, vulnerability, and humanity. Essentially, I needed someone who I could trust to be ‘on my team’, and who was also reliable and organised. I also needed someone who could be confident in challenging me, to enable me to consider a different view or to read something new or to adopt a different mind-set or response. My counsellor had all these qualities and a clear value system. Having her as my therapist inspired me to become a counsellor professionally and gave me a great role model.


Intuition

Another part of the process of finding a good counsellor was intuitive. I wanted someone I could resonate with on some level. For example, did their photo and presence exude warmth, and kindness, I asked myself? Maybe I was looking for someone with whom I had things in common? I felt drawn to someone mature who could understand some of the difficult life experiences I had experienced, such as relationship break down, being ‘othered’ in experiencing some misogyny and racism, parental divorce, and some family bereavements- two of which had happened in quick succession. Importantly, I wanted someone who I could trust and with whom I could build a good relationship and who would listen deeply. Not only that, but someone who was non-judgemental and unconditional in their regard for me as a person.

 

Practicality

Whilst values and intuition were central to finding the right person, there was also a highly practical element. Did they live near me? Could they do an online or a video call if required? Were they flexible? This was important because although I was committed to my therapy and growth, I was also a teacher at the time, and therefore needed someone who could work early evenings, or on a day when I was not working Having a free consultation helped me to get a sense of whether we would be a good fit.

 

Qualifications and Experience

As a geek who loves studying, and someone who is infinitely curious about learning, I wanted my counsellor to have undertaken rigorous training, for example a two year post graduate Diploma at level 7, or a degree, or a Masters- or all three! To acquire a post graduate Diploma in Counselling, there are a host of requirements: 100 hours of client work, supervision with a more experienced counsellor, personal therapy work, and reflexive practice through experiential work in groups, and, in addition, there is the academic study of theoretical approaches. To access such a Diploma in the first place, a trainee counsellor is required to have covered a post graduate certificate which lasts at least a year. For me personally, I was keen to find a therapist who was also a supervisor of counselling trainees as I felt they would have a wealth of experience and able to give good explanations.


Aligned to this, I was keen to find a therapist who had membership with a Counselling body because to join such an organisation a minimum of 30 hours of CPD is expected annually. Having worked in teaching, I knew that effective teachers are always learning, reading and engaging in CPD. Moreover, as a member of the BACP, NCPS or UKCP there are ethical standards counsellors need to meet and a complaints procedure to protect the client.


Also, I decided on a therapist who had experience in another career prior to counselling because I wanted to find someone who had a breadth of life experience. The counsellors I chose to work with had worked for years in business, or education, or were from a nursing background. Such experience I felt could mean that the counsellor would have a level of maturity and credibility.


Final thoughts

Over the years, I have worked with several counsellors but those who were most effective with me had a strong value system, were warm, kind and caring. They invested in the therapeutic relationship by giving of themselves and had a bit of personality. On a practical level, I could access the therapy regularly both in person and online. And, they were highly qualified and experienced in the field of life, as well as therapy. However ultimately, as a client I needed to be open to change and committed to engaging in the work by making time to work on myself and heal.

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