Questions to Ask

We don’t typically purchase a pair of shoes, jeans, or an electronic gadget without first shopping around. We want to know what’s out there, try a few on, and compare prices. Why would we assume that finding the right professional to journey with us through our most painful, personal, complex areas of struggle would be a simple one-step deal? When choosing a therapist, we encourage you to view this as an important step in your healing journey.

If you’re looking for a Christian counselor, you’ll want to consider his/her spiritual life, professional training, and practical logistics.

Spiritual Life

Counseling is inherently value laden. Therefore, your therapist’s core values need to match yours.

  1. Can you tell me about your walk with Christ?
  2. How does being a Christian impact your counseling?
  3. Do you pray with clients? Are you open to it?
  4. Do you reference Scripture? Are you open to it?

Many Christian therapists pray with clients and reference Scripture within the session. A professional therapist also respects the client’s values, opinions, and requests. You have the right to refuse any type of therapeutic intervention offered.

Professional Training, Licensure, and Approach

  1. What degrees do you hold? 
  2. Are you licensed or certified? If so, by whom? Here’s a quick-reference guide for some of the professional lingo:
    Psychiatrist. [MD] Medical doctors or physicians who are trained and licensed to prescribe medicine. Occasionally, they offer brief psychotherapy. Their primary role is to prescribe medicine and make modifications, as needed. In most states, psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals who prescribe medicine.
    Psychologist. [PhD, PsyD, EdD] A doctor of philosophy, psychology, or education who usually provides counseling and psychological testing, and may also be employed as a professor at a University. In most states, including Georgia, psychologists are not able to prescribe medications.
    Counselor/Therapist. [MA, MS, LPC, NCC, LCSW, LMFT, NCC] A mental health therapist usually has a Master’s (of Arts or of Science) degree in psychology, counseling, or social work. An LPC is a state licensed professional counselor; an LCSW is a state licensed clinical social worker; an LMFT is a state licensed marriage and family therapist; and an NCC is a nationally certified counselor. Therapists provide counseling. An LAPC or LASW is a state licensed associate…typically meaning they have met certain state-sanctioned requirements and are en-route to becoming fully state licensed, but have not yet met all the requirements.
    Biblical/Pastoral Counselor. A Pastoral or Biblical counselor may have a broad range of professional training. The counselor may have completed a graduate degree (Master of Arts) in Biblical Counseling; may have a Master’s in Divinity and a Master’s in Psychology; or may have completed seminary or theological training, with a couple of counseling classes; some may be ordained, but have never had formal training. Some strongly reject “secular psychology” and rely strictly on Scripture and the Holy Spirit (also known as Nouthetic Counseling). Some lean heavily on modern psychotherapy, are personally influenced by their faith, but avoid overtly applying a spiritual framework or tools. In the middle, lie those who work for equal integration of faith and psychology in their work with clients.

  1. What is your area of specialization? Ever heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”? The field of psychology is vast. Keeping up with research and best practices across all disciplines is impossible. Be leery of a therapist who claims excellence in working with all clients. Your therapist needs training and experience in working with your primary area of struggle. Does your therapist focus his/her energy on helping address depression, anxiety, anger, phobias, men’s issues, women’s issues, children, adolescents, learning disabilities, personality disorders, family dynamics, marriage, affairs, parenting, abuse, trauma, codependency, chemical or substance addiction, porn or sex addiction, sexual compulsion,…? You get the point! It’s possible to be excellent in several of these areas; it’s not possible to be “the best” at all of them.
  1. How many clients have you treated with my type of issues? Ethical therapists are well aware of their limitations and offer referrals to other therapists when they lack the necessary experience.
  1. How do you define successful treatment?
    Your therapist should work with you to set measurable clinical goals.
  1. What theoretical approaches do you follow in therapy? There are many approaches used by mental health professionals. While this answer is important, it is typically less important than how safe and comfortable you feel with the therapist. The “right” answer to this question sometimes depends on your presenting issue. We do believe it’s important for the therapist to address the client holistically – mind, body, and spirit.
  1. What books or resources do you most often recommend in counseling? What books (or people?) have most shaped your approach to counseling?
  1. How directive is your style? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being “very directive” and 1 being “not directive at all” how would you rate yourself?Some therapists will ask a few questions and then listen to you talk for the entire session length without ever offering any feedback or direction. They don’t want to impose their ideas on you. They don’t presume that they know better than you. Other therapists hardly have time to listen to your thoughts or perspective because they are so busy telling you what you should do. These are extremes, of course. But do consider your needs and expectations. If you just want someone to listen to you, you probably won’t be happy with a “very directive” therapist. Likewise, if you’re looking for someone to guide and lead the session, you’ll be baffled by a therapist who seems to “just look at you.”

Practical Logistics

  1. Where is your office?
  2. What is your hourly rate?
  3. Do you take insurance? Are you considered “in network” or “out of network” for most insurance companies?
  4. How often should we meet?
  5. What are your office hours?
  6. If I feel like I am in crisis, what is your protocol? Are you available by phone? Available for weekend appointments?

You may be able to find a therapist who works on the weekends and evenings. Of course, location will be a factor, also. Given the importance of your concerns and needs, you may have to forfeit some conveniences in order to find the right therapist.

For Further Consideration

Here are some additional questions you may want to consider, whether you’ve been in counseling for a while or are just starting out:

  1. Am I making progress? Since “healing” is often a complex journey, “achieving perfection” during the course of treatment is probably not a realistic expectation. But you can (and should) evaluate your therapeutic experience.
  2. Has measurable progress been made in every therapeutic goal you set when you started counseling?
  3. Are you symptom free? Or, have you made progress in learning and applying positive coping skills?
  4. Are you more isolated and feeling more alone than when you started, or have you seen improvement in building a support system?
  5. Does this counselor seem like a good fit?
  6. Do you feel safe and able to share honestly? Does the therapist put you at ease, or put you on edge? (A good therapist can carefully balance supporting you and challenging you, without coddling you or being too harsh.)
  7. Is the therapist asking questions to learn more about you?
  8. Does he or she listen to what you are saying or seem more focused on what he/she wants to tell you?

Even with clinical training, a solid Faith, and a desire to help others – it’s okay if a particular therapist is not the best fit for you. Within a few sessions you will probably have a basic impression of the therapist. If you do not feel that you are a good team, or do not sense that you are beginning to make some forward progress, it is okay to ask for a referral.

When a particular counselor has not been helpful for you, do not assume that you are defective or that you cannot be helped. Keep taking steps to pursue finding the right help. It’s beneficial to remember that this is an important step in your healing journey. It is important – you may make sacrifices of time, effort, energy, and finances to attend sessions, work through challenging issues, and complete homework assignments. It is a step – it is not a destination or the one-stop, quick-fix solution to the complex difficulties you face. It is also not the only step or the only piece of your healing process. There are many relationships, activities, personal strengths, spiritual resources that you may also benefit from during your journey. It is your healing journey – and, your healing journey may not look like others you know. When you offer yourself grace and freedom from expecting that you “should be doing better” or “should be managing this better” you embrace an opportunity to receive authentic healing. We encourage you to continue pursuing help until you find the right help for you.

Adapted from “Guidelines for Selecting a Counselor” by Rob Jackson (http://www.pureintimacy.org/piArticles/A000000451.cfm)