Seeing a counselor or psychologist is almost always the right decision if you are feeling overwhelmed, out of control or having thoughts about hurting yourself. If you find yourself in less severe distress you may be able to manage life without seeing a mental health professional. For most people, though, there comes a point when they just decide that they want something different in life: "I'm tired of feeling this way" or "I miss who I used to be" or "I just want to be more alive in life." Part of making that desire a reality can be the coaching, assessment and relationship experienced in the process of psychotherapy.
You can also try a free, short online questionnaire (no registration necessary) at http://psychcentral.com/therapy/.
Take comfort in knowing that most therapists and counselors provide excellent service. So you will benefit in different ways from different personalities and styles.
First of all, there are a two important factors that can set limits on your therapy experience: finances and severity of symptoms. If you are limited by finances or insurance coverage to only a handful of sessions, it may be helpful to focus on a specific problem or goal to make the best use of your time. A professional who uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) may be a good fit. These therapies tend to have more structure in the session and direction from the therapist. "Homework assignments" may be given between sessions. If your symptoms are severe or overwhelming, this may also be a good approach to start with. The structure and focus on specific outcomes can reduce the sense of being overwhelmed.
If you are not limited to a few sessions or are interested in more global, personality change, you may want to consider a therapist who identifies themselves as person-centered, existential, or psychodynamic. These approaches tend to be less directive, more client-led and more direct attention is given to the relationship between you and your therapist.
Please note that many therapists draw upon a number of theories to form a good fit for their own personality and skill set. They can be flexible in their approach. Many CBT therapists would describe themselves as person-centered and many psychodynamic therapists can offer more directive therapy depending on your needs. It is also common for therapists to describe their approach as collaborative, recognizing that direction from both the therapist and client is needed for effective treatment.
Finally, if your symptoms closely match a diagnosis (e.g. panic attacks, clinical depression, PTSD, social phobia, etc.) then it will be helpful to find a therapist who has specific experience with that diagnosis.
Read an overview of therapy types here: http://psychcentral.com/therapy.htm.
For more details and more therapies visit: http://www.goodtherapy.org/types-of-therapy.html.
I offer a therapy experience that allows clients to be their true selves and find reassurance that they are not alone with their concerns. It is important to feel accepted and safe in order to begin the process. Throughout the therapy experience, I make use of motivational interviewing. This a person-centered, behavioral approach that helps you connect with your own motivations for change.
When a more directive, structured approach is useful, I employ cognitive therapy, incorporating mindfulness exercises as well as principles from acceptance and commitment therapy. When a less structured or less directive approach is a good fit, I use a more relational style, incorporating psychodynamic insights, asking existential questions and observing the relationship we build together. Many people benefit from using the safety of the therapeutic relationship to try out new ways of expressing themselves and relating to others.
Almost everyone finds something helpful about therapy. The first thing therapy can do is clarify what is bothering you and what you really want (we often want more than one thing, e.g., I want to be with her and I want my space). Secondly, therapy can give you insight into how you got here in life and why you do what you do. Now, what most people want to know is "Will it change my symptoms, emotions, behavior or relationship?" There are two importance factors that influence positive change.
The relationship between you and your therapist makes the biggest difference. So it is important to find a good match between you and your therapist. Now don’t take this the wrong way, you and your therapist will always have differences. Working through these difference is how we grow. So you and your therapist do not need to share the same views. However, if you feel strongly that your therapist and you are not connecting after a few sessions, you may want to consider trying another person.
Another significant factor is your own readiness to change. This means that your desire to change has to be strong enough to do the work of therapy and take the risks of therapy. This usually means facing some of your fears and making significant changes to your routine and your relationships. Some therapies have many "homework assignments" or "experiments" that require some diligence. Others have very little homework. Either way, being prepared to try new things can make a big difference in the outcome of therapy.
A particular license is not as important as the personality and skill of the therapist. There are a few significant differences between licenses, but these are mostly academic. It is the experience, skill, personality and counseling approach that makes one therapist or counselor different from the next. However, it may be important to know that psychological testing and assessment can only be done by psychologists. A licensed psychologist, LP, has a doctorate. A limited licensed psychologist has a masters and is supervised by an LP. Still, plenty of helpful surveys can be used by professionals of all licenses.
Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) have a similar (master's level) academic experience to psychologists. Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) also earn a master of arts, with the appropriate focus on marriage and family therapy. Social work degrees (BSW, MSW) focus more on mental health policy, advocacy and community resources, but students have the option to focus on psychotherapy as well. These academic differences tend to be less important than other factors when choosing a psychotherapist.