Mind Your Mind: How to find the right counsellor

Therapy or counselling, whichever you prefer, can be helpful for many reasons. For me, it has helped with learning new coping skills and ways of relating to others in the world. It has taught me how to regulate my emotions, how to be assertive, and how to self-soothe during stressful times. Therapy can also help you with your relationships, family traumas and mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, etc.

The first rule of thumb to remember is that individuals might not “click” with the first counsellor/therapist they meet, and that is totally OK. Counsellors have different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and they may treat a specific population as well. Just because a counsellor has credentials and fancy letters after their name does not mean that they are the right counsellor for you. Finally, research has shown that a good “therapeutic alliance,” the quality of the relationship between you and the therapist, predicts better outcomes.

In the past couple weeks, I’ve been “therapist shopping.” That being said, I know exactly what I’m looking for. If this is your first time accessing counselling, here’s a few tips on how to get started and important factors to keep in mind.

Most often, therapy or counselling appointments are not covered under provincial healthcare (for example, BC’s Medical Service Plan), unless the therapy is provided by a hospital or outpatient program, non-profit organization or community services. Therefore, one thing to keep in mind is cost. At UBC, ALL students can access counselling through UBC counselling services or the Empower Me program at no cost. Check with your insurance if any therapy/counselling is covered, either by a registered clinical counsellor (RCC) or registered psychologist (R. psych). Even if you are accessing private therapy, it doesn’t hurt to ask the therapist if they offer sliding scale options.

If you would like to consider paying privately for a therapist, you can use the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors website and you can locate a private psychologist through the BC Psychological Association. When searching for a counsellor/psychologist, you can use filters to search for a counsellor in your community that specializes in the topics that relate to your concerns. There are hundreds of therapists out there, so I suggest making a list of counsellors that live near your preferred location. The UBC psychology clinic also has a list of therapy resources.

Based on my own lived experience, sometimes finding the “right fit” is a bit of process. To make things easier, I would suggest connecting with the counsellor directly before booking a first appointment, thereby saving time and money, as well as increasing the chances that it will be a good fit the first time around. Keep in mind that it’s okay to be picky. For example, ask yourself, “what gender would I prefer or feel most comfortable with when it comes to finding a therapist?”

A good therapist will be open to responding to emails or offer free phone consultations. Then, you might want to describe your situation and disclose what you are struggling with. You don’t have to disclose everything. Again, the goal is to get a feel and see if you “click” with them. Ask questions like:

What are your areas of expertise?

Do you treat individuals who struggle with (your concerns)?

What are your approaches?

What would a therapy session look like?

I suggest you connect with a few therapists and “interview them.” Then, make an initial appointment with a therapist that might be a good fit. Also, don’t pay too much attention to a therapist’s background education. It’s all about organic connection and feeling validated and understood.

As a youth who struggles with mental illness, I’ve had my fair share of therapists. I have found that finding the “right” therapist has made a huge difference, and it was worth the time and effort. I really do believe that a strong relationship and connection is so important when it comes to getting help.

Good luck with your therapist shopping!

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.