10 September 2012

Finding the right counsellor

What is important when looking for a counsellor?

This is a blogpost written for Shared Space Counselling. We provide professional, confidential counselling and can provide affordable counselling in Exeter for those that cannot afford the usual private rates.

Robin and I have our own ideas of which criteria is important to us as individuals, when looking for somebody to have some counselling with, but what does everybody else think? 

On Saturday 1st September, at The Green Fair held on Exeter Cathedral Green, Robin and I were with the Therapy@GandySt stand, promoting our counselling service. Given the success of the Respect Festival Questionnaire, I decided to do another one and see if we could learn more about what the people out there want in respect of counselling services. I was also interested to see whether the public deem it necessary for counsellors to have membership of a regulatory organisation, an issue which I am quite passionate about. Some fellow counsellors I know worked for a counselling agency who do not have membership of a regulatory organisation.  These people had concerns around unethical practice within the agency but, because of the lack of membership to the BACP or UKCP, the agency are not accountable for their actions and can continue unethical practice. I am concerned about the safety of vulnerable people  (more on the importance of BACP/UKCP membership here).

So we asked 56 individuals to look at a list of criteria and mark them, using a set scale, to indicate how important each issue was to them. The issues listed were:

  • A Cost
  • B Gender of counsellor
  • C Qualifications
  • D Experience
  • E Age
  • F Membership of a professional body
  • G Approach or technique

The scale was:

  • 0 = irrelevant
  • 1 = slightly important
  • 2 = reasonably important
  • 3 = very important
  • 4 = most important

On average, of all the criteria, the most important were "Experience" (avg 2.89) and "Approach" (2.88), followed by "Qualifications" (2.42) "Cost" (2.36), "Membership of professional body" (1.98).

Significantly lower down in the priorities were "Gender" (0.93) and "Age" (0.93)

It think it's useful to look at extremes of opinions in this, so I analysed which of the criteria attracted "irrelevant" (0) or "most important" (4).


"Age" attracted the most responses of "irrelevant" with 26 people giving it 0 points, closely followed by "Gender" (25 people). "Membership of a professional body" attracted 10 "irrelevant"s and I took the opportunity to explain briefly to those people the risks associated with a counsellor or agency not having membership.

"Most Important":

By far the most important issue for those that we asked was "Approach" as 25 individuals gave it the top ranking. Second was "Experience" with 16 people placing it as most important, followed by "Qualifications" which 11 people ranked as most important.

I am pleased with the results, as I think that what we offer, as a counselling service, caters to what the people we asked, rate as important issues. That is, people who use our service have the choice of approach, delivered by qualified, experienced BACP members, with a flexible cost structure.

Other Criteria

There are of course, other things that people are looking for, besides those in the questionnaire. Some of my private clients simply liked the look of my picture, some were drawn to my testimonials, and others to the things I write about in my blog. I am fairly upfront in my online presence which I hope gives something away of how I am. Many counsellors have homogenised websites which, I assume, intend to appeal to as many people as possible. Some people may not like what they find on my site, but those that do tend to like how I am in the therapy room.

For this reason I think that although recommendations can be useful when looking for a counsellor, it does not necessarily mean that you will gel with a therapist, just because your friend/brother/colleague does. Finding your own therapist can be a useful step towards self-discovery - finding the counsellor that is right for you. We have the good old Internet to vastly assist in this endeavour.

It is hard to gauge such issues as the "character" of a counsellor, but I do believe that you can tell fairly quickly whether you will gel with a therapist. Most therapists in Exeter will offer a free initial consultation for this reason, and it is certainly why we at Shared Space Counselling offer everybody a free first session. 

There is a post here, advising on how to look for a counsellor, which has some useful tips.

Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, Devon

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