As a parent of a child who has suffered dramatically from bullying I knew that he would need help outside of my wheelhouse for him to recover. I loved him and encouraged him and I felt helpless. He had changed dramatically. Our family dynamics changed. Everything was turned upside down. My happy-go-lucky child became morose, introverted and lacked any joy. My husband and I knew he needed to see a therapist.

Therapy can bring up a mixture of feelings for any of us. It can be terrifying for us as parents to admit that something is seriously wrong. We were lucky as we knew of a counselor that we felt would fit the bill for our son’s needs. Indeed she has. Almost two years later after starting therapy our son is recovering. His keen sense of humor is back, he is talkative and finds interest and joy in the world again. This comes from sometimes difficult work with a therapist, a loving home, and an encouraging and supportive new school.

The following are some ideas on how to find and select a therapist from Mary’s Hope Workshops. If you are on the same path as my family has been on and feel that your child would benefit from the help of a trusted counselor, I trust you may glean some valuable ideas from this article.

Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director, BRRC


Selecting a therapist who will be an effective guide as your child learns and integrates new life skills is important. The relationship between a therapist and client is crucial to the successful navigation of the critical and difficult work. Taking time interviewing several therapists will inform you as to the nature of your therapeutic relationship, taking into consideration combined personalities, preferences, experiences, and core beliefs. As a consumer it is your right and responsibility to be informed of your choices and rights. Evaluating prospective therapist credentials, personal style, values, procedures, and fees will help you to make a wise and informed choice.

Talking with several therapists may help you to pursue counseling for your child and with which counselor. Personal feelings of distrust, negativity, or the sense of being told what to do are signs of an improper counselor/client relationships. Simply do not contact or see that therapist again. Explaining to the counselor or a trusted friend reasons for your decision may give you a sense of closure. Feeling as if you have to rationalize your decision is unhealthy. If you or your child is hesitant about a therapist for any reason, you may want to talk with him or her again to clarify some points, or talk about your uncertainty with a trusted friend, or consult with another counselor before deciding. Once your questions are answered satisfactory and you feel comfortable with the information you’ve gathered, it is time to begin the therapeutic process.

When interviewing a prospective therapist, consider the following questions:

  • My child has experienced profound childhood abuse and trauma, what is your experience working with survivors?
  • What are your credentials? What do the acronyms mean?
  • Are you licensed? By whom? If not, what are the circumstances?
  • Are there particular techniques that you use? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  • Will you discuss the treatment plan with me and my child? What happens if we disagree about our goals?
  • If necessary, will you create a suicide plan if my child has suicidal ideations?
  • Do you adhere to a professional code of ethics? Which one(s)?
  • Have you ever had a charge of unethical conduct brought against you? Under what circumstances?
  • What is your best estimate to treat my child’s particular situation?
  • Do you have continuing professional training and/or supervision?
  • Do you have physical contact with clients? Under what circumstance(s)?
  • Do you think that you might be able to work with my child? If not, who would you recommend?
  • What are your fees for an initial consultation? For phone consultations? Counseling sessions?
  • Do you process insurance? If not, ask what their rationale is for that choice?
  • Consider asking questions that will inform you of their personal values that might coincide or clash with your beliefs. (What is you attitude towards abortion, gays and lesbians, religion and spirituality, non-traditional living arrangements, etc.)

Considerations is evaluating a therapist after initial contact and all sessions:

  • Notice if you feel comfortable while talking to the therapist. Ask you child if he or she feels comfortable talking with the therapist. It is natural to feel anxious when meeting or speaking with a therapist. Despite this normal anxiety you will want to notice if the counselor helps you feel at ease despite the difficulty of talking about deep issues.
  • Do they listen without interrupting? Is your child being heard and understood?
  • What do you and your child’s intuition indicate regarding this person? Do they feel safe or do you feel an underlying judgement or unease?
  • Look for a therapist who is willing to listen and explore issues rather than offering a quick solution. (Avoid those who say “you should,” or “you must.”)
  • Do you and your child feel respected and safe?
  • Are you comfortable with the personality of your child’s therapist?
  • Is the office space comfortable and safe?
  • Did the therapist answer your questions directly or evasively?
  • Did the therapist inspire hope and offer a collaborative treatment plan for your child?
  • Even after several sessions, you may sense that the relationship is not helpful. A competent and professional therapist will understand and be able to help you find another counselor with whom you may be more suited.
  • Remember, counselors are human and imperfect, yet there are some who are more effective than others. Trust you instincts as you go through the counseling.
  • Reciprocal trust, courtesy and respect are characteristic of the therapist/client relationship. Within that relationship the client looks to the therapist for expertise, education, sound judgement, and advocacy. These expectations are achieved by the following clients’s rights and responsibilities:

Client’s Rights include:

  • Having confidentiality within the limits of the law.
  • Being respected throughout the counseling process.
  • Having the freedom to refuse treatment or strategy.
  • Asking questions at any time.
  • Receiving complete information regarding he therapist’s technique and theoretical orientation.
  • Choosing you own lifestyle and having it respected by the counselor.
  • Having appointments on time, taking into account emergencies.
  • Information and collaboration about diagnosis.
  • Consultation/interviewing as many counselors as you choose in order to find a reasonable and helpful therapeutic relationship.
  • Experiencing a safe and comfortable office location that is free from physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • Agreement to a written contract of goals and treatment plan.
  • Ability to talk to others about your counseling experience, including other therapists.
  • Periodic and collaborative evaluation of the counseling process.
  • Ending therapy at any time.
  • Ability to disclose or not disclose personal information.
  • Request written reports regarding therapy with your written authorization. (There may be an additional charge.)
  • Accessing documentation within the limits of the law.

Client’s Responsibilities:

  • Honor appointment times by being prompt.
  • If cancellation or rescheduling is necessary, give the therapist a 24 hour notice.
  • Treat the therapist and staff with courtesy and consideration,
  • Treatment is only effective as the client makes it, taking responsibility for completing homework and other assignments.
  • Self-care including adequate rest, nutrition, physical exercise and collaboration and medical personnel.
  • Be truthful regarding current situation.
  • Honor fee and payment arrangements with timely payment.
  • Notify therapist of change of telephone numbers and address.
  • Respect the limitations (legal, professional, and ethical) of the therapist.
  • Understand and appreciate counselor’s legal responsibilities.

David Johns, M. LPC/National Certified Counselor

Mary’s Hope Workshops 2008