So I have mentioned that the counselling profession is having a bit of an identity crisis at this point in history and is composed of a wide variety of individuals calling themselves counsellors. Now this is not to say that individuals using the term counsellor who do not have Masters Degrees and years of experience are without their merit. For clients seeking more “simplified” supports or long-term life coaching kinds of support, this can be an alternative that is sometimes more fiscally manageable and may meet the need. Meanwhile, for those seeking support for issues that involve mental health concerns (like anxiety, depression, etc.) or issues that have been chronic or pervasive, it is likely more appropriate to find a counsellor who has been trained in assessment and treatment protocols for these issues. So what should you be looking for?
Well tip number one is education. The main professional associations across Canada require that their counsellors have a Masters Degree in psychology (includes counselling and clinical). Individuals who have completed this level of education will have done a four year Bachelor Degree as well as a Masters program typically between two and three years in length. These programs include training in assessment, treating psychological disorders, working with individuals/couples/families/children, and working with a variety of issues not related to mental health (e.g. relationship issues, work issues, grief, etc.). These programs also include intensive practicum/internship experiences where students complete a given number of hours directly counselling clients under the supervision of a professional.
Tip number two…you may have guessed it… look for registration. You want to see something like this on their business card or website: Lindsay Faas, M.A., C.C.C, R.C.C. (which is my name, Master of Arts, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor). Registration protects the client. Finding a registered counsellor acts as a bit of a safeguard – you know they had to pass specific criteria to get registered which means that they have the fundamental things they need to effectively help you. Belonging to a professional association requires your counsellor to abide by specific ethical guidelines and it gives clients a place to voice any concerns/complaints. In addition, belonging to an association means that your counsellor is getting regular information about training, resources, and other information that allows them to be even better at their job.
Tip number three is be specific about what you want. Many counsellors have learned from the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” and have selected particular areas to focus on or specialize in. So if you’re looking for relationship counselling, don’t go to someone who tends to focus on depression. If you’re looking for counselling around a recent or past trauma, don’t go to someone who prefers to do career counselling. Some counsellors have chosen to remain open (i.e. the “jack of all trades”) which can be fine, but you will want to do a bit more interviewing before you go for your first session to ensure that they have adequate knowledge about your particular issue. For example, many counsellors who offer these more “generic” services may think you are seeking general relationship counselling (like problem solving and communication skills) and feel competent to do this work, however they may not be specifically trained in working with sexual issues – and if this is what you are really seeking, it will just be a waste of everyone’s time.