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Reaching Out - How to Choose a Counsellor

As a parent, you are the one tasked with helping your child be the best they can be. You are the one who knows your child best, and so you need to make the decision of whether or not your child needs support from a counsellor. Unfortunately, our children are faced with stress on a daily basis within their two main environments: family and school. Family stress often involves transitions such as moves, divorce, illness and death. School stress can come from academics (issues such as test anxiety, expectations and homework) or social aspects (relationships, bullying and peer pressure). Each child reacts differently even when they have experienced the exact same situation. As the parent, you must make decisions around your child’s mental health based on that individual child and not their siblings, cousins or friends. If you are concerned, trust your instincts!

How do I find the right therapist?

Finding the right therapist can be a very difficult and sometimes frustrating process. Asking your doctor, family, friends or your child’s school are all good places to get recommendations for a counselling professional. Of course, the Internet is your other main option. But no matter where your referral comes from, you need to make sure the counsellor is right for both you and your child.

There are many types of professionals who provide therapeutic services, so it’s important to find the right one. Unfortunately, counselling is not a regulated profession in many provinces, including Alberta (although there are many counsellors currently working to change this). Anyone is able to hang a sign outside their door and claim they are a counsellor, so it is important to understand the different counselling titles and what this qualifies the counsellor to do.

Questions you may want to ask:

What level of education does the counsellor have?

What continuing education or special training does the counsellor have?

Are they a member of a professional body? What are the minimum requirements of the professional body?

Counsellors draw from many therapeutic models and within those models, there are several techniques and tools. It is helpful to know about the approach that a counsellor uses, but more importantly than any specific model is the relationship formed between the counsellor and their client. Make sure you feel comfortable with the counsellor. And even more importantly, make sure your child feels comfortable with the counsellor. Without trust, your child will not make any progress. It’s also important to make sure the counsellor has experience helping others of similar age and with similar issues. Not every counsellor is right for every client!

Questions you may want to ask:

What is the therapeutic model the counsellor uses? Do they adhere strictly to one model or do they pull from different models?

What techniques does the counsellor use to form relationships with clients, especially if the client is one who is resistant to counselling?

What type of client does the counsellor typically work with? Age? Issues?

Once your child begins meeting with a counsellor, make sure to ask them how they feel about it and be aware of their verbal and non-verbal responses.

Along with these concepts and questions, there are many other aspects you may want to ask about. Take the time to think through what you want to know and make sure you ask those questions. It’s okay to interview a counsellor to make sure they are the right fit.

Other questions you may want to ask:

What is the length of the sessions? How often will you meet?

What is the counsellor’s fee?

Are they covered by insurance? (You may need to contact your insurance company for specifics on counselling professionals they cover as well as how much they cover per session and per year.)

What ethical guidelines do they follow (including confidentiality policies)?

Last but not least…

The best counsellors are empathetic listeners who are respectful and non-judgemental. The job of a counsellor is not to give advice or solutions but help the client to develop problem-solving skills.

Seek therapeutic intervention earlier rather than later and remember that it has taken time, sometimes months or years, for your child to get to this point of distress. The counselling process may take a while.

Although a counsellor may be right in the beginning, they may not be the right one forever. Be open to seeking out someone else if you need a different type of support or knowledge base.

Remember to trust your instincts!

Amy Godderis, MA, owns Whatever Works Counselling, a mobile counselling practice based in Calgary. She is a Canadian Certified Counsellor who works with all ages but specializes in at-risk teenagers. You can visit her at


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