How To Find A Counselor After Abuse
If you have experienced abuse—physical, sexual, emotional, financial, spiritual, psychological, digital or otherwise—I highly recommend finding a good counselor. Abuse isn’t just violence in the moment, it digs down deep and can affect our emotions and our brains long after it occurs. A counselor is like a doctor who helps us heal on the inside.
Abuse can cause feelings of hopelessness, residual anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, self destructive behaviors, night terrors, intense fear, or difficulty with future relationships. Just as it is important to treat a physical wound, lest it become infected and spreads to other parts of the body, so it is important to treat emotional wounds with professional therapy.
Maybe you realize that you are in need of a counselor but you are not sure how to find one. Perhaps the idea of looking is overwhelming to you. In this post I want to give you some positive steps towards finding the best counselor for yourself and your healing.
How To Interview A Counselor
I have seen several counselors during my healing journey. Some were much better than others, but I didn’t know it at the time because it was new to me. I have learned that before considering a new counselor for myself or others, it is best to do a phone interview and ask very specific questions. This is an extra step on the front end, but it saves you time and money on the back end. By interviewing several counselors you are able to understand what your options are and make the best choice from the beginning, instead of wasting time relying on trial and error.
I have a set of question that I ask every counselor I am interviewing. I have done this regularly for survivors in desperate situations.
What Questions Should I Ask A Potential Counselor?
I like to start with these four questions. Afterwards, I may have follow-up questions, but these are a good place to start:
1. Are you licensed?
Just as you would not trust your physical health to an unlicensed doctor (that would be dangerous!) neither should you trust your emotional and mental health to an unlicensed counselor (equally as dangerous!). I ask questions about their degree, schooling, and continued education to ensure they are properly trained with the most current scientific knowledge, so they can offer the best healing experience possible.
2. Are you specifically trained in trauma response?
Different counselors have different specialties. In the medical field there are general practitioners who know the basics, a little bit of everything at a broad level. Many times only a specialist can get to the root of the issue and give a medical patient the proper care they need because of their specialized knowledge. It’s the same way with counselors. Some specialize in child development issues, others with resolving family conflict, some with personality disorders, or eating disorders, etc. If you’ve experienced abuse, this is usually categorized as trauma. Trauma is extremely complex and it’s best to have a trauma-trained counselor working with you. If you have need of other specializations, ask about those as well. Some counselors have multiple specialties.
3. Do you have experience with this issue?
I like to give a 2 minute description of the abuse a person has suffered, hitting the major issues such as differentiating between sexual assault by a partner vs. a relative, domestic (home) violence vs. abuse outside of the home, physical and or emotional abuse, describing if the abuse is still occurring or if it has ended, if there are self-harm tendencies, anxiety, or depression, etc. After giving a short description, I ask how much experience they have with this particular type of abuse. They don’t have to specialize in everything, but they should indicate they are experienced in the generalities of the abuse experience being described and show a willingness to look into issues they are less familiar with.
4. Are you anti-patriarchy?
I live in a very conservative city and I am aware of several instances where individuals were given a christian book that supported coercive sex in marriage (marital rape), taught that wives needed to submit unilaterally to their husbands, insinuated that a woman in an abusive marriage needed to work on respecting her husband more, or that if a man cheats on his spouse it’s not “personal,” men are just wired that way and women need to understand this. These are all extremely harmful bits of patriarchal advice, and they can serve to put a victim in a more dangerous position if followed through. As I have written before, the system of patriarchy is abuse. That is why I always ask counselors if they are pro-equality for women, if they are feminist, or if they consider themselves to be egalitarian. I use whatever equality language fits the conversation, but I refuse to recommend counselors who are not anti-patriarchy.
What To Look For During The First Session
After selecting a counselor to try, you should go to the first session. During this first session, I would check to make sure that you feel safe and comfortable with the counselor as a person. The newness of the experience may be intimidating if you have never gone to a counseling session before, but the counselor should not be intimidating. Rather, they should be understanding, caring, and sensitive. I have found counseling to be an enjoyable experience for the most part. It is a place where I can feel safe sharing without judgement, learn supportive healing techniques, and learn to make safe choices for myself.
They Work For You
If at any time you stop feeling comfortable or safe with a counselor, it’s ok to leave. You will likely develop a relationship with the counselor, but remember that you are paying them. They work for you. If you don’t feel safe you can go, no explanation needed. On the other hand I don’t recommend ending the counseling sessions just because healing from trauma is challenging. Healing is hard work, but you are worth it!
Where to Find Counselors
You can find counselors to interview by asking for recommendations from your local sexual assault or domestic violence prevention center, your physician, other survivor friends, or even a simple google search of your area can turn up a plethora of options. Additionally, BetterHelp.com offers online counseling connections. If money is an issue, ask for abuse prevention centers to recommend counselors that offer free sessions or income-based payments.
Outgrowing A Counselor
Seeing the same counselor for a number of years can be wonderful and healing, but after a while it is possible for a client to outgrow the knowledge of the counselor, or to uncover a healing need that they are not equipped to serve. Always feel free to look for a new counselor, or even to ask your counselor for recommendations.
It can be helpful to write out some of your experiences before a counseling session and send the information ahead of your next appointment. This serves two purposes, first to help make the most of your time in sessions, and second to keep a record of your experiences and feelings in your own words. Additionally, counselors keep notes about each session on their own. If a person wants to transfer to a different counselor, they can take the counselor’s notes as well as their own to give to the new counselor. That way they don’t have to start again from the beginning of their story.
I NEVER recommend couples therapy for someone in an abusive relationship. This wrongly tells the abuser that it is a mutual relationship issue, instead of an abuse issue that is solely their fault. It also opens the door for something called “triangulation.” Triangulation is when the abuser manipulates the counselor and gets them on their side, causing the victim to receive improper support or advice. You need someone to counsel you who has only your best interest at heart.
Most counselors are safe individuals, but if at any point they should make a sexual comment or advance towards you, this is wrong. You need to leave that situation immediately and report the incident. There is a power differentiation between the counselor and client, and such a situation is likely categorized as a form of sexual abuse.
I hope you’ve found this article to be helpful! Please pass it along to anyone you think may need help finding a quality therapist.