If you’re thinking of speaking to a counsellor the first (and most important) step is to find the right counsellor for you.
Like any industry, you’ll have your pick of service providers but it’s not enough to find the closest counsellor or the cheapest counsellor. With tele-health technology allowing for Zoom calls no matter what Australian city you call home, you deserve to speak to someone who is caring, empathetic, and understanding.
Research has shown the bond you develop with your counsellor has an impact on the personal growth you experience, so it’s worth taking the time to find the best counsellor in Australia for you.
In this comprehensive guide we’ll explain what counselling is, how counselling can help you, and what steps to take to find the best counsellor for you.
What is counselling?
The term ‘counselling’ gets thrown around a lot in 2021, but it’s important to understand what a counsellor is and what role they play before you find the right professional for you.
Put simply, a counsellor is a trained and unbiased expert who typically provides talk-based therapies to help you overcome the challenges in your life. Talk therapies are popular and effective, using words to understand your issues, explore possible options, and boost self-awareness.
Instead of “fixing you” outright, a counsellor is helping you learn the skills you need to stay balanced and in control of your mental health going forward.
How counselling can help
Life is tough at the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic, plus uncertainty about health, employment and travel, and you’ve got the perfect storm for mental health challenges.
If you’ve ever sat down with a trusted friend or family member and talked through your problems, you’ll already know what a difference an empathetic ear makes. Unfortunately, there are some challenges that friends and family can’t help with – no matter how well meaning they are.
Outside support, from an experienced counsellor, goes beyond simply listening to your problems. Your counsellor is trained to:
- Get to the root of your mental health challenges
- Support you towards overcoming your emotional obstacles
- Help you make positive changes in your life
In short, if you’ve got a problem you’re struggling to solve, the right counsellor can help you find a solution to move past your roadblock and take back control of your life.
“Do I need a serious mental health problem to speak to a counsellor?”
Not at all.
If you were feeling physically run down you’d go to the GP for a check-up, and the same logic applies when your mental health reserves are drained. Many people seek out professional counselling to assist with challenges such as:
- Relationship problems
- Career stress
- Ongoing stress or anxiety
- Life transition like births, separation or divorce
- Traumatic experiences
- Feeling stuck in life
- Parenting challenges
- Grief and loss
- FIFO challenges
Counselling is suitable for individuals, couples, families, groups and even employees in professional sectors. There’s no lying on couches, awkwardly talking about your childhood for hours, or severe mental health challenges as a prerequisite.
Counselling is simply about helping you find inner wellbeing and optimal life balance, so when life throws a curveball (which it will from time to time) you’ll have a way to move forward with confidence and good mental health.
“Should I go for medication over therapy?”
Medication has become a common tool for managing mental health challenges, and there’s no denying medicine has a place in ensuring you feel like yourself.
But it’s also true that most mental health challenges have a range of causes and triggers. So while you may be able to take multi-vitamins to increase your Vitamin C, it’s much harder to take a pill and resolve the challenges you’re facing.
Medication is also unable to solve the “big picture” problems. For example, if you’re struggling with anxiety as a result of the challenges of a FIFO relationship, medication will only treat the symptoms of your struggle, not the cause.
Counselling offers a long term solution with the problem solving skills learned applicable in your current situation as well as in future situations that make you feel stressed, overwhelmed and out of control.
Ask friends, family and your GP for personal recommendations
Every counsellor you consider should be fully qualified and licensed, but on top of that you’ll want to find someone who you can connect with.
Start your search for the best counsellor in Australia by asking your friends and family; or your GP if you’re securing a Mental Health Care Plan.
This simple step is a powerful tool because these people know you already, so they’ll be able to recommend counsellors who will “get” you. If your family has connected with a counsellor in the past they’ll have first-hand experience of how a counsellor acts and what strategies they employ, which can help you make a decision with more confidence than reading reviews on a counsellor’s website or comparing results on Google.
Think about your goals before you choose a counsellor
What do you want to get out of your counselling sessions?
Coming into counselling with a clear plan – even if it’s not specific to the last detail, will help you find a counsellor who specialises in your particular mental health challenge, and is willing to work with you towards your goals.
Studies have demonstrated the positive benefits when client and counsellor are working towards the same goal, so work on identifying where you’d like to be 6 months from now.
This could be:
- Communicating better with a FIFO spouse
- Feeling more confident to deal with conflict at work
- Overcoming your anxiety relating to COVID-19
- Working through difficulties with your spouse
These goals may change throughout your counselling sessions, but coming armed with a plan of where you want to be can help you find a counsellor who’ll support you towards those goals.
Understand the different counselling styles
Each counsellor may use different processes and treatments to understand your challenges and provide possible solutions. For example, popular counselling modalities include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and Solution-Focused Therapy.
You won’t need to learn what all of these mean, but it does help to be aware that one counsellor may be extremely different from the next, so choosing the right counsellor for you can take time and a little homework.
Outside of the structure of counselling, each counsellor will also have a unique approach to their sessions. It’s important to find someone who aligns with your goals and expectations. For example, does your counsellor expect you on the same day for the next 12 weeks on a rigid schedule? Or, are they happy to book session-by-session based on your progress?
There’s no right or wrong approach – only the approach that makes you feel comfortable.
What to look for when choosing the right counsellor for you
Counselling is most effective when you trust your counsellor, and when your counsellor understands your needs. That makes trust and communication key, but what else should you be looking for when choosing a counsellor in Australia?
Here’s a few crucial features to be on the lookout for.
One of the reasons people seek out counselling is to learn from someone with experience, particularly relating to the challenges you face. This is the difference between a trained counsellor and a friend sitting across the table from you.
You don’t need to look for the most experienced counsellor possible, but knowing your counsellor has helped people with anxiety/depression/relationship trouble/the issue you’re facing, is important.
Believe it or not, but there’s no law in Australia that says counsellors must be qualified. Anyone can launch a website or create a Facebook page claiming to be a counsellor, so it’s important you look for proven qualifications.
A trained counsellor typically studies at University level for a minimum of 3 years, so make it a priority to find a counsellor who can show they’ve built their skills through theoretical learning and practical experience.
The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach isn’t ideal when choosing a counsellor. For example, if you’re struggling with work-related anxiety, you’ll want to find someone who’s got a background helping other employees find their place at work.
When you’re comparing possible counsellors, find out what challenges they specialise in and make sure your shortlist of candidates all have expertise in your field.
Give your list of counsellors a call
You’ll be spending time talking to your counsellor once you make your choice, so now that you’ve got a list of possible choices, get a head start on the process by contacting a few of your highlighted counsellors to get a feel for their personality, service and approach.
You won’t be receiving proper sessions over the phone, but introductory calls are the ideal way to dip your toe in the water.
Consider asking questions to help shape your decision, like:
- How long have they been a counsellor?
- What specialty areas do they focus on?
- Have they worked with clients like you in the past?
You can also ask questions about cost and session time. Each counsellor may have a different rate, and not all counsellors are fully covered through Medicare and the Mental Health Care Plan, so it pays to do your homework and get a clear idea on price and rates.
Red flags to watch out for when choosing the best counsellor in Australia
Your connection with your counsellor will always come down to gut instinct. It won’t matter how many degrees are framed on the wall or how impressive the counsellor sounded when you made your booking, it may take a session or two to get a sense for your fit.
Remember, you don’t have to stick with the same counsellor just because you’ve attended a session or two.
A good counsellor will respect your choice, and may even offer referrals or suggestions to help you move forward. On the flipside, watch out for the following red flags – either during counselling sessions or between sessions – which may mean it’s time to look for a new counsellor.
✘ The counsellor talks more than you
✘ The counsellor checks their phone during your sessions
✘ The counsellor interrupts you often
✘ The counsellor invalidates your feelings
✘ The counsellor makes recommendations against your beliefs
✘ The counsellor makes you feel judged, shamed or unsafe
✘ The counsellor makes you feel WORSE after each session, not better
Your first counselling session is crucial
So far we’ve talked about all the ways to compare potential counsellors and look for specific features that will help you move forward, but choosing a counsellor happens inside a session as much as it does outside.
You might not feel completely comfortable in your first session – but this makes sense when you’re opening up to a stranger, especially if you’re discussing personal problems that you tend to keep to yourself.
Instead of judging your counsellor on comfort, ask questions like:
- Do I feel heard?
- Am I receiving valuable feedback?
- Can I relate to this person?
- Was the session respectful?
Instead of looking for concrete solutions after your first few sessions, focus on how you feel. Do you feel as though you’re moving the right direction? Do you feel like you’ve been in a safe place? Do you feel like things are slowly turning around?
Improvement may take time, but watching out for how your counsellor makes you feel is key.
Don’t forget this ONE ingredient to finding a great counsellor…
When you’re struggling with external challenges in life, whether they’re related to work, family or your personal life, it’s tempting to place all expectations on your counsellor – after all, you are paying them to help you.
But when choosing the right counsellor, don’t forget to factor in the most important person…YOU.
You’re an active participant in each counselling session. It’s not what you learn with your counsellor that makes the difference, but how you apply what you’ve learned between sessions that counts. The right counsellor should make you feel empowered to make positive change, and provide you with the tools you need to move forward.
There’s no shortcut to overcoming the challenges in your life, but with the knowledge you’ve learned from this guide you have all the information you need to find the right counsellor for you.
Are you looking to find the right counsellor for you? Get advice and support by calling Life Skills Australia on 1800 870 080. Or, fill out our simple contact form to request an appointment.