This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on July 1, 2021, by Lindsay McKeen, LCSW, CCS, Outpatient Therapy Supervisor, Health Affiliates Maine.
Question: My husband and I divorced last year and while initially our daughter (11) was adjusting well to the big change in her life, she seems to be struggling more and more. We want to find a counselor for her to talk with. I’m wondering if you can suggest what types of questions are good ones to ask when trying to find the right counselor? My ex and I want to be sure it’s a good fit. Thank you so much.
Answer: It can be difficult to take that first step in getting yourself or a loved one into counseling, and even more so when you are navigating a new family dynamic and trying to find that support for your child. It is important that you and your ex-husband are on the same page here. In sharing this awareness of her needs and interest in finding a counselor that is a good fit for her, you are off to a good start.
Before looking at what to ask of the counselor, it is important to be sure the right questions have been asked within the family. While your child may not be hands-on in the search for a counselor, it will end up being her service and provider and so including her voice early on may help enhance her connection and engagement. What is her understanding of counseling? Is she agreeable to seeing a counselor? Are there any questions she would like answered before seeing the counselor? Does she have any questions for you? While parents are the decision makers, children value being heard and having a sense of control where appropriate. Giving her this voice before starting the counseling relationship can set a good tone for creating a trusting environment where she feels she can be open about the struggles she has been having.
Then, when it comes time to ask questions of the potential counselor, it may also be helpful to ensure you and your ex-husband have similar definitions of what a “good fit” would look like. You may have already had this dialogue, or you might try answering the questions below with one another to see if your definitions align. Many counselors also have online profiles and viewing these together could be another way to get a sense for what you both are looking for in a counselor for your daughter. Here are some topics and questions to consider when looking for a counselor:
Experience: While it is possible for counselors to work with people of all ages, many counselors find their niche in working with certain client populations. This niche may be developed around age group, diagnoses or presenting concerns, and/or specialized treatment approaches. Asking about the counselor’s experience may help you feel more comfortable with their ability to support your daughter with her needs.
- Does the counselor have experience working with children or your child’s particular age group?
- Does the counselor have experience working with families, especially those navigating divorce?
- What is the counselor’s therapeutic modality or approach to working with children?
If you have spiritual beliefs or other cultural considerations you would like considered by the counselor:
- What is the counselor’s understanding of that belief/culture?
- How does the counselor manage differences in beliefs/culture and/or how does the counselor understand the ways in which the belief/culture may impact a child’s mental health care?
Potential Scenarios: In learning about the counselor’s experience and approach in therapy, you may get a sense for how the clinician will interact with the child and family, or you may want to ask more questions to get a better understanding. You might try thinking ahead to potential scenarios that might arise using the questions below:
- How will the counselor navigate confidentiality and privacy for the child in relation to parental involvement?
- How will the counselor handle concerns that they themselves or the parent(s) have identified?
- How does the counselor foresee handling differences in opinion that may arise between parent(s), child, and/or counselor?
Logistics: Though the counselor’s experience and approach are likely most influential in selecting the right provider, the logistics are important too. Having discussions about the logistics upfront can help clarify expectations of both parties and minimize disruptions to the counseling relationship once it has begun.
- Does the counselor provide in-person or telehealth-based services?
- Does the counselor have the availability to offer a standing appointment? Or is their scheduling flexible/varying depending on the week?
- What are the counselor’s practices for communicating information to parents?
- Are there expectations for parental involvement?
- What is the best way to communicate with the counselor?
Though this article presents many questions and considerations for finding the right counselor, know that this is not all-inclusive. Having conversations with your ex-husband and child may expand or narrow this list to what feels most relevant to her needs. Most important in this process is open communication, with one another and the counselor, keeping in mind that the common goal is to support your child, and that the search can continue if you find yourselves feeling like the counselor is not a good fit.
Lindsey McKeen, LCSW, CCS is a clinical social worker and Outpatient Therapy Supervisor at Health Affiliates Maine.