It isn’t always easy to find a good counselor, but there are many out there. Sometimes we just need help knowing where to look and what to look for.
I’ve heard stories that make me sad for what some have experienced when they sought help. I’ve also heard many who say counseling was beyond valuable. It helped them work through unhealed pain and troubling obstacles so they could experience a life of greater freedom.
My own experiences include both ends of the spectrum. When one counselor raised a lot of red flags, I had the choice to quit and assume all were like this, or keep seeking.
You’ll never find good help if you assume the help you’ve had is all there is.
This article provides key consideration points to help you find a good fit for you.
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what’s important and what you need. You may not know in the beginning and that’s OK. This is not a one-stop-shop fix. It’s part of a process that includes willingness and new things.
Before you even begin, consider taking a few deep breaths and engaging with God in prayer. Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets can be helpful here too as you lay out your current thoughts, feelings, and even apprehensions about counseling.
Key Consideration Points to Find a Good Counselor
Qualifications Based on Education, Training, and Experience:
Is the therapist licensed? What experiences have they had with others who have similar needs or areas of concern?
The term counselor is pretty broad. Even the narrower term “Christian counseling” can mean a lot of things, which I share more about in What Type of Counseling is Available for Christians? An individual may say they are a counselor, a Christian counselor, or a biblical counselor, but they may not be trained, educated, or equipped to handle your counseling needs.
For example, someone may have training in a field that allows them to be a licensed therapist, but they aren’t technically trained to deal with heart and soul healing from past wounds and trauma. They may have little to know knowledge and wisdom around abuse, addiction, mental illness, personality disorders, marital conflict, and so on.
In addition, while an individual may have area-specific education and training, they may not have personal experience with implementing strategies or seeing personal growth in their own lives.
Consider what’s important to you here. Do you need relational care, trauma healing, life support, parenting help, or something else? Do you need someone who can show empathy and care, or guide you through new ways of communicating, or help you heal at a source level. Do you need someone licensed (especially recommended for abuse, addiction, trauma, mental illness, and personality disorders)?
If you don’t yet know what you need, notice that. It’s OK to not know. Hold on to the question as you begin.
Counselor’s Personal Growth:
Is the counselor committed to their own personal growth? Have they personally engaged in soul work through therapy or other means? Are they humble and willing to recognize they don’t have all the answers?
Ideally, whomever you choose has done the work of spiritual growth and emotional healing for themselves. They have more than training, they have personal experience with soul-level transformation. This applies to licensed therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, biblical counselors, and even/especially pastors or key leaders in your community who offer unlicensed counseling services.
Not all counselors will reveal whether or not they are on a path for themselves, but I have found counselors open enough to say they spent years in counseling prior to providing therapy. Some continue the process while they help others. They are committed to growth and attending to blind spots.
I’d like to pause for a moment and add extra emphasis on the need for personal growth when it comes to pastoral and biblical counseling. I’m concerned that counseling within churches may be done by individuals who haven’t done their own work, which can setup potential harm for a counselee. At a minimum, it can be less effective.
It is far too common to meet with someone in a church who is unskilled/trained in therapy methods who is also impacted by their own wounds and biases. Without a personal path, they may be blind to their own needs while helping others. A lack of willingness to pursue personal growth raises red flags.
What if there are no Christian counselors in your area? What if the Christian counselors are not trained for the type of assistance you need?
Please note that while I highly recommend a Christian counselor who values and supports your spiritual needs throughout the process, I also recognize that not all counseling or therapy must be done by a Christian. Especially, if it’s providing the help you need and you’re able to get faith support elsewhere.
If I, or a loved one, suffered from a significant issue that needed more help than I could get with a Christian therapist, I’d consider a specialist the way I would a medical doctor.
There are times when the best help you can get is through someone specialized in a particular area, especially for personality disorders, significant trauma, abuse, or addiction. If you can find someone who supports your faith, that’s ideal. If they don’t negate your faith, that too is a viable option.
What’s important to you?
A series of letters after someone’s name doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a good fit. Personality, ability to connect, and respect are important variables in addition to faith. If a counselor negates your faith, or pushes you to believe what they believe, they are not acting in an ethical manner, whether they consider themselves Christian or not.
A good Christian counselor will help you uncover unhealthy beliefs and experience more of God’s powerful presence as you heal and grow.
A good non-Christian counselor will leave room for your faith to grow, or even encourage it, without discounting or dismissing it.
Consider what you truly need, then consider the options available to you. If you can find a quality Christian counselor, great. If not, pray and ask God whom you can trust for help. God will be with you whether your counselor is aware of God’s presence or not.
Areas of Specialty and Expertise:
Do you need someone who specializes in a particular issue? Do they specialize in trauma, abuse, addictions, divorce recovery, etc.? Could this level of training and understanding be helpful? What certifications or training do they have?
When I first searched for a counselor, I assumed they were miracle workers for any and all situations. I wanted someone who would give me answers and have it all figured it out. That’s not what I found. It took awhile to realize that every counselor has areas of specialty and expertise.
Counselors are not there to fix you. A good counselor helps you become more of who God calls you to be and experience more of Him in the process.
These are important points to understand so you can find the kind of help you need.
For example, you might need a marriage counselor but not realize your counselor choice isn’t trained in marriage or family therapy. In addition, those who are trained in marriage and family therapy may have specific areas of training and expertise that make therapy with them very different than what you’d experience with someone else. Examples include Gottman method, attachment therapy, and more.
If you’re in need of trauma help, you might look for someone trained in Somatic Experiencing or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Each of these require different specialty trainings.
In the article, What Kind of Counseling is Available for Christians, I shared various license and training acronyms you might find when searching for a counselor. This should help you get started.
Level of Faith Involvement:
Will this person allow my faith, strengthen it, or encourage me in it? How important is that to me? If they aren’t able to support me in my faith, but they aren’t detrimental to it either, are they helpful for other areas of need? Are there others who can encourage and build me up in my faith? Do I need someone who will pray for and with me? Will they share biblical concepts and guide me into God’s truth? Will they allow me to wrestle through doubt and pain while faith is formed? If I can’t get this from my counselor, what other options are there?
Above are several questions to help you consider what’s important to you with the level of faith involvement you get in therapy, or with wise counsel from safe and trusted friends. Not all counselors are created equal and certainly not all Christian counselors are created equal. You may receive some faith involvement through professional counseling, but not enough of what you need.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. ~ Proverbs 11:14
Use the above questions to evaluate your needs. Consider where you might get support through more than one venue. Consider how your therapist fits into a larger picture of support.
Combinations of Therapy and Faith Support:
For example, a recovery program plus a licensed therapist, or spiritually mature friend and a trained therapist?
Remember, counseling is not the only venue for fixing all the things. Counseling can be super helpful, but it is one piece of the whole of your life. Consider where counseling and therapy may play a part in your growth journey alongside of other options.
For example, you might see a therapist for trauma healing for a season, then move to marriage or family therapy with loved ones. You might add a free local support group, like a recovery program, a church small group, a life coach, a mentor, a couple of safe friends, and/or pastoral support in the church.
Again, you don’t have to know what your support team will look like up front, but consider there are many options to help you grow and heal.
Expectations for Counseling:
What expectations do I have about my counselor, the process, what’s expected of me, and the timeframe? What is my level of commitment to getting help?
We are prone to try new things with expectations that induce fear or limit our ability to reap full benefits. Consider what expectations you may currently have. Ask God to reveal if you have unhealthy expectations going in. Be willing to respond if damaging expectations come to light over time.
It isn’t necessary to know what your expectations are before you being counseling, however, considering the possibility is helpful. In addition, your counselor may have expectations and they may differ from yours. It may be helpful to ask them what’s expected of you during the process.
Example, I saw a counselor who told me flat out that he needed me to be emotionally stable. I still had prevalent signs of PTSD, so the type of work he wanted to do was not going to be a fit at that time. I believe he’s good at what he does, but it wasn’t going to work for me in that season. The expectation was clear up front.
Also, consider what expectations you might have on God. Are you expecting Him to make sure you find the right path and right person without anything hard along the way? Or, will you ask, respond, and trust His timing, presence, and goodness as you go, even when it’s hard?
How can I get help if finances are an issue?
Who offers a sliding fee? What can I do to prioritize help for my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being which impacts every area of my life?
Our personal ability to function well, relate well, and engage in the world we live in is impacted by many things. Counseling can be an effective way to address areas in your life that keep you from experiencing more of God, richer relationships, and the ability to enjoy in a vibrant life.
How important is professional help to your overall well-being and livelihood? If trauma/addiction/abuse/mental health is negatively impacting your life, getting help should be a high priority. Many times finances become a barrier to getting help, but by not getting help the ability to generate income is hindered.
Consider the alternatives to a life without help.
Consider other options, such as sliding fee counselors, low-cost monthly online support groups, online teaching. Also, consider how you might prioritize paying for help so you can enjoy more of life.
Phone Consultations Prior to Initial Appointment:
What is this counselor like? Will I feel comfortable with them? Is there a chance they could help?
Many people don’t realize they can ask for a phone consultation with a new potential counselor. Many therapists are happy to offer 15 minutes of phone time to help you decide if you’ll give them a chance to help.
To prepare for this call, write down questions and prepare a brief summary of what brings you to counseling.
When you talk to the counselor, you can get an initial feel for whether or not this counselor would be a good fit. They may be able to tell you whether or not they think they could serve you well.
Who do I know that has received counseling? What was their experience like? Who do I know, or whom in the church, can recommend a good counselor based on personal experience or relationships?
If you’re having trouble knowing where to start, consider whom you can go to for recommendations. A friend, a co-worker, a family member, church leaders, church community, or even a church you aren’t a member of.
Another option is asking those you meet with in a support group. While they can’t recommend counseling in group sessions, when you develop relationships with others you are welcome to ask if they know of good counselors in the area.
If the referrer is willing, find out what they thought was helpful or not helpful. Remember, their experience will be different than yours. Consider red flags, but don’t throw out an option because someone said they didn’t have a positive experience. Do you your own diligence to understand why and pursue options that might work for you.
What’s important to you?
What do you need?
What is God saying?
As you pursue help, consider your needs and values. You may not have clarity on this, which is OK. These will become more defined as you go through the process of seeking help and engaging in personal growth/healing.
You can print out this post, and others in the series, and highlight questions that stand out to you. Grab a notebook or journal to write down your thoughts, questions, needs, and concerns.
Ultimately, this is a journey. You are taking a courageous path by considering counseling and help. When one path doesn’t foster growth, find another one. Ask God for guidance and remember, His presence is with you where ever you go.
Additional Resources on Finding a Counselor for You:
- How to Find the Perfect Counselor for You – article by Meg Gemelli, LMFT
- 10 Questions to Ask a Biblical Counsellor to Make Sure They Are Safe – Sheila Wray Gregoire
- On Rachael Denhollender, Biblical Counselling, and Healing – Sheila Wray Gregoire
New Life Christian Counseling Network
Pay a fee to get a counselor who meets requirements set by New Life Ministries. Fee covers cost of first appointment. This network has more vetting for professionals than a directory. You may still call the counselor and ask them questions to see if they are a fit for you. If your referral is not a fit, you may request a new referral.
Christian Counseling Directories
NOTE: These are not vetted options. It is a directory which includes self-included information and tags. Christian can mean a number of things. Use directories to help you consider options, then ask questions.
- Focus on the Family Christian Counseling Service & Referrals (may offer one free consultation)
- Focus on the Family Christian Counselors Network
- Christian Counselor Directory
- Therapy Tribe
- Psychology Today – Christian Search Term for Directory
You'll never find good help if you assume the help you got is all there is. When searching for a counselor you may not know your needs in the beginning and that's OK. This is not a one-stop-shop fix. It's part of a process that includes willingness and new things. Counseling can be super helpful, but it is one piece of the whole of your life. Consider where counseling and therapy may play a part in your growth journey alongside of other options. Counselors are not there to fix you. A good counselor helps you become more of who God calls you to be and experience more of Him in the process. #ChristianCounseling When I first searched for a counselor, I assumed they were miracle workers for any and all situations. I wanted someone who would give me answers and have it all figured it out. That's not what I found. Counseling can be an effective way to address areas in your life that keep you from experiencing more of God, richer relationships, and the ability to enjoy in a vibrant life. As you pursue help, consider your needs and values. You may not have clarity initially, which is OK. Definition comes as you go through the process of seeking help and growth. #ChristianCounseling