So how do you choose a counselor?

Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash By Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

A Good Fit

A therapist is more than a friend who listens. The most important factor is whether or not you feel your counselor is a good fit for you. Various factors go into “the right fit,” such as personality, establishing trust, and building an authentic relationship. You need to find a connection in which you are challenged in positive ways, feeling valued and not judged. Your comfort is vitally important in the context of a counseling relationship in order to help you grow and heal.

Sometimes when a counselor doesn’t feel like a good fit, a conversation with him/her is all that’s needed for a remedy. Other times, finding a new counselor is necessary. A qualified counselor ought to be open to either option for you.

Licenses & Education

What do all the letters mean with mental health professionals?

LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist): Counselors/Therapists who have Masters degrees, have passed required exams, completed years of training and are licensed by the state. They are able to diagnose, but cannot prescribe medications. They focus on improving life satisfaction, relational dynamics, trauma, and emotional wellness. While counselors often specialize both in specific types of therapy and specific populations, most also treat common and prevalent reasons a person might pursue therapy. Typically, the terms “counselor” and “therapist” are used interchangeably.

MD: Psychiatrists have a medical degree and focus mainly on the physical brain and what can go wrong with it medically. They prescribe psychiatric medication. Some psychiatrists additionally provide talk therapy, but it’s not their specialty. Typically people see a psychiatrist for medication and a different professional for therapy.

PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), EdD (doctorate in education, indicating that their psychology doctoral program was part of a university’s college of education): Psychologists with doctorate degrees who carry the title “doctor,” often have specializations, and can provide formal psychological evaluations. They are able to diagnose, but cannot prescribe medications.

PLPC (Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor), CIT (Counselor In Training), PLMFT (Provisional Licensed Marital and Family Therapist): Counselors/Therapists who have completed their Masters degree and practicum/internship requirement, but are at various stages of state required exam and supervised training.

LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker): A social worker might provide counseling to people in private practice, but they frequently work in systems and organizations in the community, advocating for children and underserved population, connecting them to resources and providing individual or group counseling services.

MEd (Master of Education): An advanced degree for an education professional, typically for school counselors.

NCC (National Certified Counselor): A Board-Certified counselor recognized by the National Board of Certified Counselors, which offers a voluntary national certification that identifies counselors who have met national standards set by the counseling profession based on education and an exam. 

These are some of the main sets of letters you will encounter, although there are more and some letters listed after someone’s name will have to do with a specific training. If you’re wondering, you can always ask!

Training & Specialties

There are some struggles that are best served by specific types of therapy. Ensure that you are seeing someone who is qualified to treat what you are desiring to work on. Do a little research or ask others if you are not sure whether or not you would most benefit from a specialized kind of counseling. Some will require the therapist to have additional training and others only require self-study and experience.

Cost & Insurance Coverage

Financial considerations are important when choosing a therapist. Treatment fees, whether they accept your mental health insurance, how much is covered by your insurance and how much you will pay out-of-pocket, and if they offer any reduced cost options is all information that helps in finding the right counselor for you. At Avenues, we accept many types of insurance and offer scholarships based on need to ensure our services are accessible.

Over the long term, therapy costs can really add up, although it can help to think in terms of long-term benefits when weighing the costs of therapy. Could forgoing spending in other areas of your life make sense in light of the investment in your mental health and quality of life?


Availability and location are purely practical, but can prove to be determining factors in the process of selecting a counselor. Convenience is important, though it might be worth adjusting your schedule or driving a bit out of the way if it means working with a therapist you trust and helps you move forward.

Online vs In-person: Most counselors are offering both options these days. While both can be effective, make sure to check in with yourself on how each option works for you. Are you less comfortable being vulnerable or more easily distracted virtually? Are you more likely to cancel and inconsistently attend in-person? My personal opinion is that in-person offers a lot that virtual does not. When meeting a friend for coffee, no one chooses virtual if an in-person option is available. There’s a reason for that.

While there are numerous factors that go into choosing the right therapist, trusting your gut is the most important. Not all mental health professionals are equally skilled, trained, or qualified. And a counselor who is a great fit for one person is not necessarily the right fit for someone else.


*Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash