5 common mistakes people make when choosing a counsellor (and how to avoid them)

5 common mistakes people make when choosing a counsellor, and how to avoid them

So, you’ve made the decision to go and see a counsellor, hands up if you are now feeling completely overwhelmed and unsure of who to go and see? It’s so easy to feel like this.  Here are 5 most common mistakes that people make when choosing a counsellor and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1 people make when choosing a counsellor and how to avoid it

1. Giving up before you’ve really got started

There are so many different places to find a counsellor; be it online directories, professional bodies such as the BACP, google, word of mouth, local notice boards, the list is endless.   There’s lots of different types of talking therapies available and many counsellors too! 

I get it.  I really do.  I’ve been where you are now, sat scratching my head thinking who? 

The danger is, that it can feel too difficult, exhausting, overwhelming (and this might be part of why you are going to counselling in the first place). So, you give up your search.

Let’s look at some things that contribute to this happening and how we can avoid it. 

Mistake 2 people make when choosing a counsellor and how to avoid it

2. Not being clear about what you are looking for

There are some basic steps to think about before you get started. Often, we haven’t thought further than wanting to feel better, stronger, calmer, stronger (insert your own word here……).    We aren’t 100% sure about what we are looking for. 

Before you even start your search, try to get clear what you are looking for.  The things that are really important to you.  

It will make the search easier and enable you to find the right counsellor for you a lot quicker. 

Asking yourself the following may help:

  • Why are you going to see a counsellor?
  • What do you hope will be different for you?
  • Are you more comfortable speaking to a man or a woman?
  • Do you want a counsellor to have the same cultural background?
  • Do you want to see a counsellor who specialises in your particular challenge or struggle?
  • Do you have a particular type of therapy in mind?  More information about the different types of talking therapy available can be found here.

If you can answer some or all of these questions it will really help you to narrow down your search. And know what questions you want to ask when making enquiries.

You might find it helpful to jot down your answers so that you can refer back to them if you need to. 

Mistake 3 people make when choosing a counsellor and how to avoid it

3. Not paying attention to what your needs really are

Considering the practical aspects of counselling is vital.  These things may seem small, but when it comes down to it, they can become real barriers.  

Ultimately standing in your way of getting the support you need right now.

Practical needs to consider when choosing a counsellor

Things to think about:

  • Location
    • How far are you willing to travel?
    • Do you need free parking nearby? 
    • Do you need public transport links?
  • Access
    • Do you need disabled parking or accessible rooms?
    • Do you need a counsellor who can sign or is able to accommodate an assistance dog?
    • Do you need your counsellor to come to you at home?
  • Time
    • Do you need an evening, weekend or daytime appointment? 
  • Same appointment each week
    • Do you need the same appointment time and day each week or do you need flexibility?
  • What is your budget?
    • How much are you able to commit on a weekly or monthly basis
  • Wait
    • Are you willing or able to wait? (either for a free or low-cost counselling service, a specialist counsellor, or a counsellor in the right area)   
Mistake 4 people make when choosing a counsellor and how to avoid it

4. Sending out too many enquires

Yes, I know, you’ve made a decision to see a counselling and you just want to get on with it!  But, if you approach too many counsellors, it can feel overwhelming and chaotic as you start to get replies.    

The feelings from right back at the beginning, of not knowing where, who, when, can return. Before you know it, you are right back at mistake number 1 and giving up! 

I would suggest contacting no more than 2 or 3 counsellors at any one time. 

Equally, you may choose to contact just one counsellor, perhaps because they have been recommended to you.  Maybe something on their website or profile really spoke to you or perhaps they specialise in a particular area that you are struggling with right now.

Either way is OK, as long as you feel comfortable.        

When you are waiting for replies, it’s always worth keeping an eye on your spam and junk folders for replies.  Just in case your overly keen email provider has sent their lovely replies there instead of your inbox!!

Tip:  If you prefer to ring, be prepared to leave a message with your number and the best time to give you a ring back. 

Mistake 5 people make when choosing a counsellor and how to avoid it Mistake 5

5. You don’t attend your appointment (or you do, but you don’t go back!)

Scenario 1:

You’ve conquered making an appointment but weren’t prepared for how nervous you would feel in the run up to it.  So, you don’t go. 

But, here’s the thing.  It’s natural to be scared.  It’s OK for feel anxious.  You are meeting a new person, in a different environment.    Believe it or not I get a little nervous meeting a new client for the first time too!         

There are lots of myths out there about what counselling is and isn’t.  All of which can impact on how we feel just before our first appointment.  Read my recent blog to find out more.   


Scenario 2:

You’ve gone along to your first appointment and then not gone back.  It will be very personal to you what the reason behind this is.  But here are some things to consider:

  • Did you feel welcome and comfortable?  
  • Were all your practical needs met?
  • Were you able to open up?

It can often be the last one that’s a stumbling block.  In two ways. 

1. You felt comfortable but for some reason you didn’t say what you wanted to say.   It’s hard opening up to someone you’ve never met before.  It can take time to build trust. 

Ask yourself why you clammed up.  If you didn’t connect with the counsellor or your felt uncomfortable in some way. Continue your search, until you find someone you feel really gets you.

Remember, that we are all human, some people we click with, others we don’t and that’s OK.   

But, ask yourself (and answer this honestly) was I scared to open up?  Was I holding back in some way?  


2. You did open up, more than you thought you would and said things you didn’t even know you were thinking!  And that’s scared the living daylights out of you!  

Yep, I’ve done this one too!  Counselling isn’t meant to be scary but it can be quite shocking to find yourself really talking, perhaps in a way you have haven’t done recently, or maybe ever!  It can feel strange, even uncomfortable. 

But the benefits are immense.  Counselling really is the best form of self-care that I can think of.  The very best way to find your own path and gain understanding of you, your experiences and reactions. 

As with any relationship, if it’s going to fast for you, say so. Your counsellor will be better able support you at a pace that is right for you. 

Finding the courage to return when we’ve scared ourselves can be tough.  However, it’s hugely rewarding to do so.   

It’s human nature to want to avoid pain.  But, when we keep ignoring emotions, it can keep us stuck.  It can stop us living our best lives and being the best version of ourselves. 

What now?

Ultimately though, it’s vital that you feel comfortable with the counsellor that you choose.     

I hope the ideas I have shared here, will help you avoid making the 5 most common mistakes people make when choosing a counsellor or therapist.    

Don’t give up on your search for the right counsellor for you.  This is a hugely positive step you are taking for you; you really are worth it. 

If you live in or near Lancashire, and are struggling at the moment, you are now on your own.  Get in touch to book a one to one session on 07305 621885 or email me hello@sarahtinsleycounselling.co.uk

Thanks for reading and see you next month

Big Love

Sarah x

Sarah Tinsley, Counsellor near Chorley, Lancashire

About the Author: Sarah is a qualified Counsellor, based near Chorley, Lancashire.  She works with adults and couples, who want to gain clarity, find new direction, recognise themselves again and be less haunted by painful emotions.   Sarah has a particular interest in working with people who have experienced change (such as redundancy, retirement or divorce), loss or bereavement.