Choosing a Counsellor

Help, where do I begin? Who do I ask? Who can I trust? How much will it cost? What are my options? These are questions I often hear and get asked by friends, family and colleagues.

It’s not unusual that someone needs to find a counsellor at a time when they are not thinking or feeling at their best, such as when they are depressed, anxious or bereaved.

This may lead to them feeling vulnerable and unsure about how to take the next step, where to begin and how to have some control in the process.

Family doctors may be the starting point. They are able to listen and give a medical diagnosis, or opinion, from which recommendations would be made; e.g. medication offered, if possible a referral to a counsellor in the surgery, or another member of the community mental health team. They will also have a list of national and local organisations that are able to offer support and information such as CRUSE for bereavement, RELATE for relationship concerns and difficulties, and WOMEN’S AID for domestic abuse/violence (Tel: 0800 328 3070).

Sometimes people find the NHS waiting times for counselling too long, or they do not want to involve their doctor and so would prefer to look elsewhere. Whichever route they take it is important to find the right counsellor to meet their own individual needs. Therefore, another starting point could be through a recognised organisation.

You could try the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), telephone: 0870 443 5252 (or visit their website:; or the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), telephone: 020 7436 3002.

They are able to give an up-to-date list of counsellors who have reached a standard of training and experience, who adhere to their code of ethics and who choose to belong to their organisations. Some more experienced counsellors are Accredited Members; others will be eligible for, and working towards, accreditation.

Various telephone directories, magazines and papers also list adverts for counsellors and voluntary groups such as Mind.

If it is possible – ask family, friends or colleagues if they could recommend a counsellor.

Some work places have a counselling option. To find out ask the Personnel/Human Resources Department.

When choosing a counsellor most people will probably have some of their own thoughts and questions. Here are some points you might also like to consider and investigate before starting working with one:

  • Is the counsellor qualified (i.e. they have reached diploma or degree level)?
  • Is the counsellor insured to work with clients?
  • You could ask to see their certification and up-to-date insurance documents.
  • Does the counsellor have regular supervision from a qualified supervisor (approximately 1–2 hours per month)?
  • Does the counsellor belong to a recognised organisation such as BACP, UKCP, or other similar body?
  • When and where do they see clients?
  • How much do they charge, how do you pay, and is there a reduction for those on low wages?
  • Do they offer a free, or reduced, introduction session?
  • What are the arrangements for holidays, and cancelled or missed appointments?

On meeting the counsellor, ask yourself if you actually like him/her?

Do you feel comfortable in their presence and do you think that they are able to meet your needs?

You do not have to make up your mind on the spot, ask for time to think about it.

Let the counsellor know if it is possible to contact you, and how you would like to be contacted (e.g. telephone, mobile or letter, and if messages can be left for you anywhere in case of late cancellations etc.).

Finally, remember if you are not satisfied or you are unsure about the way a counsellor is working with you – then tell them. However, if you are satisfied with the way you’ve worked together – then pass your recommendation on to any friend in need.

What to expect