Finding a Competent Mental Health Professional: Determining Your Family’s Needs

Knowing what therapies are available is only a small part of the picture. Even more important is the process of determining the precise characteristics and traits you’re looking for in a counselor. It’s crucial to keep an eye out for a therapist who not only fits your child’s personality, style, and specific needs, but also yours as well. This can be a complicated process.

Take the question of personality. In some cases an extroverted clinician may overwhelm an introverted client. In others, however, the health care professional’s extroversion may be precisely what’s needed to draw your child out.

You’ll also want to consider the practitioner’s sex. A young girl who has been sexually abused by a man may feel more comfortable with a female therapist. On the other hand, a male counselor may be in a better position to help her work through her issues with men.

Ultimately, of course, only you and your child can decide exactly what you need. Here’s a list of some other things you’ll want to think about as you look for the counselor best suited to address your situation:

Faith

If you’re a believer, you’ll probably want to find a counselor who shares your Christian faith. Look for a counselor who

  • integrates biblical and psychological principles,
  • filters all treatment through Scripture,
  • follows the Holy Spirit’s guidance,
  • prays for you and your family.

Balance

As you consider counselors, avoid extremes of all kinds. Look for someone whose approach is characterized by a balanced emphasis on mind, body, and spirit. Stay away from the therapist who tends to see everything in terms of a spiritual issue or only a physical problem or biochemical imbalance.

Education and Training

Review the list of mental health professionals listed above. Decide which type of practitioner is best qualified to address your child’s issues. Make sure that the individual you select has the appropriate credentials.

Special Expertise

Some counselors can be described as generalists—they may have a great deal of experience working with a broad range of common disorders but have little or no competency in your child’s particular area of need. If at all possible, look for a therapist who specializes in the area where your child is having problems. If you can’t find a Christian practitioner who fits the bill, you may have to settle for a nonbeliever. Just be absolutely certain that this person won’t say or do anything to undermine your family’s faith.

Before choosing a counselor, take some time to browse the counselor’s website, gathering basic information about credentials, philosophy of treatment, fees, and office location. During this phase of your search, you may be able to glean some useful data from Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network or from one of the following counseling associations:

  • The American Association of Christian Counselors
  • Psychology Today
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • American Psychological Association
  • Colleges in your area that offer degrees in psychology or counseling

Key Questions

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential candidates down to three or four, it’s time to do a phone interview with each of the counselors you’re considering. It would probably be a good idea to ask your child to listen in, especially if he’s an adolescent. That way, he’ll be able to have a voice and participate in the final decision.

Here are some questions to ask during the interview:

  • How will you go about developing an assessment and diagnosis of my child? How do you collect information and make decisions?
  • How do you develop treatment goals?
  • How do you develop a treatment plan?
  • What are the laws surrounding confidentiality with a minor? How do you maintain confidentiality and keep me as the parent in the loop at the same time?
  • What is your guiding philosophy concerning the use of medications?

Final Thoughts: Relational Therapy

Counseling will succeed or fail based upon the relationship the counselor can establish with your child. If that relationship clicks, you and your child will have taken your first step on the pathway to healing, wholeness, and a new outlook on life.

If it doesn’t, there’s no need to panic—just restart the search process. If you stick with it and make wise choices on the basis of the information we’ve provided, you’ll eventually find a good match.

Lesson Complete!