My wife Popie is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and therefore I get to overhear lots of conversations trying to match people with counselors. Often people want to know the therapist’s values—is she a Christian? Is he pro-marriage? They ask about specialization—does the therapist work with teenagers? And occasionally there’s concern for the therapist’s theoretical framework.
My wife encourages people to interview prospective therapists, remembering who is choosing whom and who pays the bill. Many people are intimidated by therapists and reluctant to ask probing questions. But counseling is a very inexact science and it’s important to find someone who suits you, in personality, style and values. It’s not exactly like looking for a new car, but it’s not entirely unlike that either. If you’re uncomfortable, keep looking.
I think—and my wife agrees—that the most under-asked question is this: “Are you a directive or a non-directive therapist?” A directive therapist—to put it in shockingly simple language–is one who will interact with you and offer advice. A non-directive therapist will just listen, waiting to take direction from you. He or she will mirror back to you what you say, but will not take charge of the session.
I’ve known a number of people who got “stuck” with a non-directive therapist who drove them crazy with his passivity. And vice versa, some people absolutely only want somebody who will listen and reflect—they don’t want advice. Most people don’t think about this difference when they’re looking for a counselor—they may not even know about it—but it’s a very decided distinctive that makes a huge difference in satisfaction.