Choosing a Counselor

How Do I Choose a Counselor?

This is a step by step guide for selecting the counselor that may be best for you. If you are reading this and living in Atlanta, I have worked here for 25 years, am acquainted with many counselors, psychologists, and social workers. You may schedule an instant appointment. 

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The 6 Basic Categories

1) Geriatric. Older persons who face life crises that are part of the aging process.  Those who are dealing with death and dying or medical conditions common with the older persons.

2) Adult. Approximately 18 or older.

3) Adolescents. Approximately age 13-18.

4) Children. Infancy to age 12 or 13.

5) Couple

6) Family. These are all highly specialized areas of work. When you contact a counselor or psychologist ask these questions:

1) Rather than asking do they work with children, ask what % of their work is with children. The same applies for all of the other above mentioned specialties. At least 30% of their work should be in that specialty.

2) Ask them to briefly describe their credentialing or training.

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Why These Specialties Are So Different.

Children have different therapy goals than adults, teens and so on. Roughly speaking though not hard and fast, elderly persons’ focus will be on coping with aging. Adults will be growth-oriented. Change oriented. Are more likely to choose longer-term therapy because of those factors. Adolescents can be divided into two groups. Those who are under 18 will have unique legal issues-custody, confidentiality rights and so on. Individuals between 18 and roughly 22 in many cases cope similarly to adolescents. Both groups tend to externalize the source of their struggles. They may have difficulty understanding they are the cause of their struggles. Goals for both will be more focused on behavior change. Children have not developed all verbal skills. Therapy that is highly verbal or “talk” is often inappropriate. The goals of therapy will often be promoting behavior change through the therapist working with the parent. To teach the parent different ways of interacting with their child. Couples and Families require directive and highly interactive approaches. Of these, adult individual therapy often results in the most deep and enduring growth and change. Change the individual wants to carry through their life. Changing relationship patterns, and other personal/ professional advancement.

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Identifying Your Concern

The Triggering Event

Sometimes this can be difficult to identify. Maybe only that you feel depressed. Suggestions for further identifying your struggles include:

1) What happened during the prior week? Why do you want help now? Maybe you had an argument with a family member. Did they ask you to get help with a specific problem? Maybe you experienced an outburst or were more irritable. Maybe you were suddenly more anxious and afraid. Felt dizzy, short of breath. Tightness in your chest or fear of dying. Think back on the past 6-12 months. Have you experienced family death? Job loss? these are only examples. You may be fully aware of your needs because of prior experience with a therapist.

2)Did you receive a startling report or phone call from your child’s teacher?3)Did you learn of ill health or terminal illness of an elder family member?

Identifying the Specific Condition

If you have previously seen a doctor or psychiatrist who has prescribed medication for your mental health or if you have seen a therapist, it will be helpful to share this with the counselor on the phone. If you have been diagnosed with a specific condition share that as well.  For example alcohol or other drug abuse, depression, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, traumatic events…share all of these on the phone. It is normal for many people to be suffering from an emotional condition to not know what is happening to them. This can be very frightening. It may be difficult to describe. That’s OK. When you meet at your first session, he/she will help clarify that.

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Begin placing phone calls

An appropriate conversation may be something like this:

“Hi, I’m John. I am looking for a counselor or social worker for my 10 year old son. I received a call from the school psychologist reporting he made threats to another student. It appears these problems began about two weeks ago when his father moved out of state. I would like to schedule an appointment. Please tell me about your experience working with children? What percentage of your practice is child therapy?”


“I’m John. I have seen a therapist previously for help with my drinking and my father’s alcohol abuse when I was a child. The therapy was helpful. I want to resume with another therapist. Can you tell me about your experience with addiction and childhood trauma? Do you work mostly with adults?” (In fact here is an excellent short book for Adult Children of Alcoholics.)

If you are satisfied with the outcome of your conversation, consider making an appointment with them. Again these are guidelines, but nonetheless an excellent starting point for finding the right therapist.

Public and Other Services

Georgia Crisis and Access Line: 1 800 715-4225 (
Emergency Police: 911 (ask for a CIT (Crisis Intervention Trained) officer)
United Way: 211 (
NAMI National Help Line: 1 800 950-6264 (NAMI) (Mon.-Fri. 10-6)
Peer Support “Warm Line”: 1 888 945-1414 consumer-directed 24/7
Cobb/Douglas Crisis Stabilization Program
5400 S. Cobb DriveSmyrna, GA 30080404 794-4857 /
DeKalb CSB – DeKalb Regional Crisis Center 450 Winn WayDecatur, GA 30030 404 892-4646 /


Ridgeview Institute – 770-434-4567
Emory University Hospital Psychiatry – 404 686-6222 –
Emory Child & Adolescent Mood Program (CAMP) –
GA Regional State Hospital/Atlanta – 404 243-2100
Anchor Hospital 770-991-6044 serves adolescents & adults
VA Medical Center (Decatur) veterans will be transported to Grady
Wesley Woods Hospital Psychiatric Unit (geriatric) 404 728-6222
Peachford Hospital (Dunwoody) 770-455-3200