One of the questions I often field from friends and acquaintances is "can you recommend someone to see for counselling?" often followed up by "are they Christian?"

Finding the right counsellor is vexed issue, especially given the confusion over titles and who does what. So here are some hints about how to find the right person.

1. Many people will start by meeting with their minister or pastoral worker in their church. They should be able to guide you about when you need more than they can offer in the form of pastoral counselling or general support and prayer. Many would know counsellors in their area that they have sent people to before.

2. Asking someone you know who has had counselling is a good starting point - although the person they saw may not suit you personally nor work with the issues that you need help with.

3. Counsellors and psychotherapists are tertiary trained to work with a wide range of modalities - there are many different therapeutic modalities (see Wikipedia for a good list!), each with a different main focus, be that focusing on cognitive behavioural, emotions, family systems, solutions, psychodynamic patterns etc.

4. Counsellors and psychotherapists either work for agencies and not for profits (NFP) such as Anglicare or the The Cottage Counselling Centre where I work, or are in private practice. Agencies and NFP's usually offer a sliding fee scale. Private Health fund rebates are becoming easier to get for private practitioners and those in NFP's.

5. If you are seeking help with a relationship or family matter, ask whether the person has specialised training to work with relationship issues.

6. Particularly if you are seeing a private practitioner, check that they are a member of professional counselling or psychotherapy association. PACFA is the largest peak body so being registered member of PACFA is a reliable qualification.

7. Recently a new national register of counsellors and psychotherapists has been developed called ARCAP, so you could ask re their eligibility to be an ARCAP Register member as well

8. Your GP can make you a referral to see a clinical psychologist, general psychologist or clinical social worker.  You will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for 12 sessions. There will still be a gap to pay which could be up to around $80 or more. Generally psychologists are trained to assess and apply a range of cognitive behavioural interventions. Clinical social workers tend to work with a wider variety of modalities than psychologists.

A GP can also prescribe medication and may work in a "shared care" situation with a practitioner.

Mostly the Medicare rebate is only available for a condition that can be classed as a mental health problem, so is usually not available for relationship counselling.

9. A psychiatrist is someone who is medically trained to work with mental illness and often specialises in dealing with medication. If your depression or anxiety is severe your GP might refer you to a psychiatrist.

What about the person being a Christian? Should you aim to see a Christian and what difference will that make?

"¢ All practitioners should respectfully address any discussion of faith raised by the client.
"¢ Some practitioners will be practising Christians, but due to their training or modality they work with, it will not be integrated with their work. However they would not usually introduce any technique or intervention that would be problematic for a Christian.
"¢ People working for Christian agencies like Anglicare and The Cottage will actively seek to integrate Christian faith and their practice, either explicitly or implicitly. This could range from theological reflection on clinical issues in counsellor meetings, through to praying with clients in the counselling room and discussion of relevant scripture with the client, if so requested.
"¢ A number of practitioners will have received specialised training in Christian Counselling, such as the nationally accredited training in Christian Counselling courses offered in Sydney and Melbourne by St Marks National Theological Centre ([url=][/url]) which I coordinate. This training is founded on Biblical views of personhood, relationship and change, integrated with relevant best practice secular counselling practices.
"¢ Counsellors who are members of the Association of Personal Counsellors or Christian Counselling Association of Australia have demonstrated their ability to integrate Christian theology with counselling practice as a requirement for their membership.

Not quite as complicated as choosing a mobile phone plan, but almost!

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