When choosing a primary care physician, many people first get a list of providers from their insurance, and then choose a name randomly from this list. This is not a good way to find a counselor.

Counselors greatly vary by education, experience, personality, counseling style, and specializations. When choosing a counselor, consider the following:

Education: What kind of degree does the counselor have? Where did she get her degree? The American Psychological Association has specific standards that psychology doctoral programs must meet in order to be accredited. These programs are certified to have the highest standards for education and training. Always choose a counselor who graduated from an accredited program.

Experience: How much experience does this person have treating individuals with your particular concern? A person with an eating disorder may feel confident seeing a counselor who has 10 or more years of clinical experience. However, it is possible that this same counselor has never even treated a person with an eating disorder, and therefore would not be a good fit for this person. Additionally, you may wish to ask the therapist what populations they worked with before starting a private practice. Have they spent most of their career in a hospital, university counseling center, nursing home, or addiction rehab setting? This information may help you determine if the counselor is a good fit for you or your loved one.

The Relationship: Research has shown that the counselor-patient relationship plays a large role in the success of treatment. People who trust their counselor, feel a personal connection with the counselor, and feel understood by their counselor have the best therapy outcomes. Many people find that a short phone call helps them decide if they feel comfortable talking with this counselor. Many counselors are willing to provide a free phone consultation to people interested in counseling. These counselors understand that this contact is very important to help a person decide if the counselor is a good fit.

Psychology Today: At Psychologytoday.com, you can find a list of counselors in your area. You can read descriptions of the counselors’ services, and send an email or call the counselor to find out more information.

Physicians: Physicians generally have a list of several counselors they routinely refer patients to. Always be sure to check the credentials and experience if you follow up with these referrals. Doctors often refer patients to large counseling clinics, and they are so busy that they do not have time to keep up with changes in the staff at these clinics.

College Counseling Centers: These centers have lists of counselors who treat students and have a lot of experience working with young adults. If you are a recent college graduate or young professional, contact your local college counseling center for a list of counselors in the community.

Remember that cheaper is not always better. Many therapists are limiting their acceptance of insurance in order to devote more time and energy to patient care and continuing education. The right counselor for you may not accept your insurance. If this is the case for you, consider paying a little bit more to see a counselor who is out-of-network. Remember, your counseling is an investment in your happiness, well-being, and future.