Guide For FInding the Best Fit Counsellor for Your Child or Teen
2015 Guide to
Counsellor for Your
A Free Guide Prepared by:
Philip Meehan (M.Soc. Sci)
Canadian Certified Counsellor
Finding the right counsellor for your child or teen isn’t easy.
Between the many professionals, there are confusing job titles. And there are literally hundreds approaches to counselling.
The decision to seek help can be confusing at the best of times and then, even when you’re sure that counselling is right for your child / teen, where do you even start?
· How do you find the right kind of help for your family?
· How do you find a competent, experienced professional that’s right fit?
I created this free guide to help.
Inside this booklet, you’ll find the answers to your questions and also answers to a lot of questions you probably haven’t yet thought to ask.
I am a fully accredited professional counsellor working in Singapore, but I have a specialty. I would like those who are considering help to know exactly which counsellors in Singapore might be best suited to their needs.
People often have tremendous amount of difficulty finding the kind of support that would be most appropriate for them. In many cases this confusion results in people not finding the help that would be tremendously beneficial to them. Suffering and bad feelings last longer than they should because people can’t find the help they need.
I firmly believe in the power of counselling and the importance of mental health, so I created this guide to make the process as painless as possible.
If you decide that counselling is right for your child / teen, then I’d like to make it easy for you to move forward.
This guide you will cover the most important aspects of getting started:
· What Actually is Counselling and How it Can It Help?
· What are the Strengths and Benefits of the Different Options of Mental Health Professionals
· The Warning Signs to Look For In Children and Teens
· Ten Questions to Think About When Choosing a Counsellor for Your Child / Teen
· 3 Questions to Ask a Counsellor To See If They Are Going to Be a Good Fit For Your Child / Teen
· The #1 Key to Choosing the Right Counsellor for Your Child / Teen
· How to Prepare Your Child to Visit a Counsellor for the First Time
· The Four Most Dangerous Myths about Counselling
· How Does Counselling Support Student Academics?
· How to Get Support Without Taking Out a 2nd Mortgage!
· How to Find a Counsellor for your Child / Teen in Singapore
Finding the best counsellor for your child / teen shouldn’t be difficult. I wrote this guide because I have worked with quite a number of individuals who wished they had had a guide like this years earlier. Singapore has a large number of qualified professionals and I’d like to make it easier for you to connect with the best one for you and your family.
The best way I can think of to help is to give you the answers to the most important questions, and some of the questions you might not even have to help you find your best-fit counsellor in Singapore.
If you have any questions, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve dedicated my counselling practice to getting clients the support they need, when and where they need it.
Canadian Certified Counsellor
1 - What actually is Counselling and How it Can It Help?
Counselling is a talking therapy used to help people of any age deal with and manage life’s problems. There are counsellors who are trained to work with individuals, groups and couples, children and adults as well as specializations around particular issues. There are also over 400 different ways (modalities) that counsellors can approach their work. Many counsellors complete more than one training and are therefore qualified to work with more than one type of client group.
Counselling may be short term (as few as 4-12 sessions), longer term (say 6-12 months) or even open-ended. The length of the piece of counselling work undertaken will depend on the type of issue/s a person is looking to work on or address, and their individual circumstances.
What About Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a talking therapy which often involves medium or longer term therapy (periods of 6 months or more). As a result, the focus may be on addressing both immediate issues and concerns as well as the deeper reasons and motivations behind them. However, many psychotherapists also have the training and experience to work in a short term way and do so when they feel it is appropriate.
2 - What are the Strengths and Benefits of the Different Options of Mental Health Professionals
Counsellor: Usually refers to someone with a Master’s degree (years of schooling?) qualification in counselling, psychology or a related field. They should be registered with a national agency. From there they will likely specialize in particular one or more approaches and have experiences with a range of challenges. Note that the term counsellor can be used for any mental health professional that speaks with clients on a particular topic.
When to see a counsellor? Work with a counsellor tends to focus on short and medium term management of life’s challenges.
Social Worker: Similar to counsellors, social workers will usually have a Master’s degree qualification in social work. They will case manage as well as support clients on a range of mental health issues. In a community setting, social workers are often the first line of mental health support. Again, look for registration with a national agency.
When to see a social worker? Similar to counsellors, social workers are trained to help you cope with life’s challenges and if you go to a family service centre, there is a good chance you will meet with a social worker.
Psychologist: Most psychologist programs are Doctorate level training, which means that a psychologist has specific training that equips them to work in clinical, research and medical environments, as well as general patient therapy. Psychologists are also generally qualified to conduct testing to diagnose mental illness.
When to see a psychologist? There are many psychologists who provide similar therapy to that of counsellors and social workers. Due to their training, they are excellent professionals to speak to when you are looking for root causes. You also want to speak with a psychologist if you need a diagnosis or would like to test for a condition.
Psychiatrist: A medical doctor with a specialization in psychiatry. They are the only professionals on this list who are able to prescribe medication. Often a psychiatrist will work with a counsellor, social worker or psychologist to provide a wholistic level of care, combining medication and talk therapy.
When to see a psychiatrist? Often clients will be referred to a psychiatrist after then have been diagnosed with a mental illness if medication is part of treatment. A counsellor can also refer a client to a psychiatrist to test for a condition if they suspect it is one that would require medication to manage.
Therapist is a general term that usually refers to a counsellor but can be applied to any of these professionals.
3 - The Warning Signs to Look for in Children and Teens
Counselling can help when people are going through a difficult time. Beyond any list, the first thing to do as a parent is to trust your instincts. If you feel that your child isn’t coping well and would like them to speak with a professional, do. If you encounter any of the signs below, do speak with your child’s teacher or the school counsellor as your collective insight may give you a clearer picture to help your child.
1. Difficulty coping with a significant life event. Also note that by significant, I mean significant from their perspective. Examples include bereavement, divorce, illness, moving, third culture kids...
2. Sudden emotional changes where your child becomes withdrawn, worried, stressed, sulky or tearful.
3. Significant negative changes, such as a drop in grades for a high achieving student.
4. Anxiety, sadness, or worries that impact of normal functioning.
5. When the child’s behaviour is negatively impacting on the family.
6. Signs of negative coping strategies, such as alcohol or drug use, fixation on food (dieting or overeating) or self harm (such as cutting).
7. Being told by a teacher or school counsellor of a particular concern they have.
8. Social isolation or withdrawl.
9. Bullying either as the victim or perpetrator.
A note on the teenage years. Complaining isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis. If other signs like a healthy social life and are managing school, pushing limits and distance from parents is expected. However, if you notice that your teen has lost interest in what gave them pleasure, their friends no longer call or that they have “lost their spark” even when they say that things are “fine”, you do have a cause for concern.
4 - Ten Questions to Think About When Choosing a Counsellor for Your Child / Teen
Note: you may also want to ask your child/teen these questions to see if they have any strong preferences.
1. How soon do they need to see a therapist? Is it immediate or are you happy for them to join a waiting list?
2. Would they prefer to see a male or female therapist?
3. Is there a language they would be more comfortable speaking? A language they are fluent in can be reassuring or allow them to communicate freely.
4. Is the culture/religion/spiritual position of the therapist important?
5. Are you happy for the therapist to be mostly silent during the session or would you prefer interaction?
6. How much are you satisfied paying?
7. Is the age of the therapist important?
8. Do you want the therapist to focus on an immediate problem or something that happened in the past?
9. Would you like your child / teen to attend group therapy?
10. Would you or they prefer to see someone face to face or is skype a viable alternative?
Once you have answered those questions for yourself, you can use ask the following questions:
5 - 3 Questions to Ask a Counsellor To See If They Are Going to Be a Good Fit For Your Child / Teen
Once you have answered the ten questions above, you might have a few to ask a therapist when deciding if they are the right fit for your child / teen. You may be able to do this over the phone, or you can ask them during your first session. Three questions to keep in mind are:
1. How much experience do you have working with young people like my child / teen?
2. What is your approach to counselling? You can ask them how it works and why it’s helpful. And this follows nicely to the third question -
3. How many sessions will this generally take? It’s impossible to tell during a quick phone consultation or even during a first session, but your counsellor should be able to give you a rough idea based on the information at hand. Different approaches will take different lengths of time, and it’s important that you’re comfortable with this at the beginning.
However, there is one element that’s supersedes everything when choosing a counsellor.
6 - The #1 Key to Choosing the Right Counsellor for Your Child / Teen
There are over 400 different modalities or ways that therapists can train to specialize in such as art therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (linking thoughts to behavior), hypnotherapy and solution focused brief therapy (using client’s resources and strengths to drive change). Each has its pros and cons and many are backed by research showing their effectiveness. As long as the modality is practiced by a trained and competent therapist, each of them can expect to have as good a chance at success as another.
The best predictor to a successful counselling relationship is the fit between your child / teen and the therapist. Finding a professional they are able to connect with, are at ease with, feel supports them and feel confident in, has the greatest impact on the outcome. Start by reading their bio on their website, read what they have to say if they have an article or blog, see if you can speak with them on the phone or if you can, go for a session to test the waters. If time and finances permit, you might even choose to see two or three therapists for a session to get a sense of who would be the best fit for your child / teen.
There’s no rule that says you have to keep going if it isn’t working. If it feels like the right fit, stick with it, but if it isn’t, your counsellor won’t be offended if you choose to work with another professional!
According to a 2004 Harris Interactive study for the magazine Psychology Today,
When it comes to selecting a mental-health professional, people tend to rely on recommendations from doctors (cited by 28%), their health plan’s list of providers (26%), and geographic location (22%) more than other factors… When it comes to views on what makes mental-health treatment successful…(people) tend to mention factors that are very different from those cited as important in selecting a mental health professional. More specifically, the therapist’s listening skills (cited by 68%) and personality (50%) and the patient’s personal connection with the therapist (50%) are the most commonly named factors in making therapy successful. (Harris Interactive)
The underlining is my own, but again, it’s the relationship that’s important!
7. How to Prepare Your Child to Visit a Counsellor for the First Time
Visiting any adult can be challenging for children when they’d rather be doing any of a thousand other things. When going to see a counsellor for the first time, start by asking your child a few questions:
· Do you know what a counsellor is? Have you ever met the school counsellor?
· Is there anything you are nervous (afraid) of?
· What would you like the counsellor to help you with?
Often children have concerns around privacy and confidentiality, though they don’t know the word. They are worried that others will either find out that they came (the age old stigma around mental health! ARGH!). Counselling agencies take privacy quite seriously and in all likelihood, the only way their friends find out is if they tell them. Which, on the other hand can be terrific if your child is OK with it!
Children are also worried that everyone will know about what is talked about during the session. Your counsellor will surely address confidentiality at the beginning of the session but you can reassure your child that what is talked about in the room stays there. Your counsellor will also mention the exceptions are if someone is in imminent harm (being hurt, hurting themselves or someone else) or if the courts require it.
8 - The Four Most Dangerous Myths about Counselling
1 – Everyone will know! No - counsellors are bound by a code of ethics where confidentiality is paramount. What children / teens discuss will stay in the room between them and the counsellor. Only under extreme cases, such as when someone is in imminent danger or when the courts compel it, will information be shared.
2 – Isn’t counselling is only for really serious problems? Quite the opposite. Though counsellors will often help children / teens with serious mental health concerns, the majority of people who come to counselling seek support to deal with life’s challenges, such as coping with stress, managing relationships or getting unstuck.
3 – I saw a TV show where all the counsellor did was doodle or ask “how does that make you feel” Most counsellors these days are active and engaged, using questions, responses and follow the methods and interventions they have studied to help your child / teen reach their goals. If you’re worried, ask the counsellor before hand if to find out how they work.
4 – Counselling takes forever! It really depends on the goals and motivation of the child / teen and their family, but most counselling is short to medium term (anywhere from 3-4 sessions up to about 16 sessions). It’s true that there will be cases that are more serious that require a longer commitment. It’s also true that after overcoming a challenge, a client may decide to return to their counsellor at some point in the future. Ethically, counsellors should work to ensure that their clients develop the skills and confidence to engage in life without their ongoing support.
9 - How Does Counselling Support Student Academics?
If there are challenges in the student’s life that they are having difficulty coping with, they will be spending time and energy either managing or coping with the challenge - time and energy that could be spent on academics. In a school context, the goal of counselling is to support students be their best self and better access curriculum. Once a student has processed the challenge or learned to cope with it in a healthy way, they will be much more able to access learning.
Counsellors can combine a positive and trusting relationship with traditional counselling interventions and expertise in time management, organizational skills, managing anxiety, goal setting and motivation. This combination can help a student better access curriculum and begin to reach beyond the immediate challenge.
Red flags vs Crisis - By accessing a counsellor early when you notice red flags, your child / teen will learn to manage conflict and challenges and gain confidence in their ability to do so. They will also be able to return to focussing on studies and other interests in a more timely manner. When things reach a crisis point the work needed to overcome is understandably more time consuming and difficult.
10 - How to Get Support Without Taking Out a 2nd Mortgage!
When you find a counsellor who is qualified, experienced and is the right fit for your child / teen, you’re more likely to have a favourable experience and outcome in fewer visits, even if that person costs a little more.
However, the costs involved with seeing a counsellor or related professional isn’t always linked with their skill level, qualifications or experience. It can be simply the going rate for that level of professional or what they’ve decided they need to charge to pay the rent! Cost is always a factor, but don’t let it be the only decider.
As a general rule the more education a therapist has, the more expensive they will be. Counsellors and social workers tend to be more affordable than psychologists and psychiatrists. However, if you know that you are looking for a diagnosis or want your child / teen to explore their past over a long period of time, you may want to speak directly with a psychologist.
More and more, organizations are seeing the importance of supporting the mental health of employees and their families. There’s a good chance that you can claim your visit either directly (if your workplace is affiliated with an Employee Assistance Program – EAP) or through reimbursement. Check the requirements carefully though. They may cover for one type of professional but not another.
An excellent option for Singaporeans and PR’s is the local Family Service Centre. There are trained social workers and counsellors who can support you through the challenges you are facing. Costs are more affordable than choosing a private counsellor, though there may be limits on the number of sessions you can attend.
11 - How to Find a Counsellor for your Child / Teen in Singapore
FSC - As mentioned above, your local Family Service Centres are an excellent source if you are Singaporean or a PR.
For private counselling or for non Singaporeans and PR’s, there is no easily searchable database of counsellors, psychologists and social workers in Singapore. Plan B looks like:
Google - by refining your keyword to exactly the type of counsellor you are looking for you are more likely to find success. There are many counsellors who are either registered in Singapore or other national bodies (UK, US, Canada, Australia etc...) that work privately or within counselling agencies or group practices. Google the type of therapy you are looking for (child, marriage, anxiety…) and go through the sites that come up on the first two pages. You’ll have individuals as well as group practices. Once Googled, look at:
· Aggregators - There will be a few different sites that counsellors can advertise on.
· Group Practices - There are a number of counselling agencies where a number of counsellors can be found.
· Forums - There’s a good chance that someone has asked the same question on a forum.
· Adverts - The sidebar and top 3 hits are all ads. However, you’ll find group practices and individual counsellors advertising their services here.
Referrals - A great option for parents is to ask the school counsellor. You can ask friends or post to social media if the query is one you’re open to sharing. Your pediatrician or GP will often have a few professionals they have worked with. If your workplace offers coverage for therapy either directly or through an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) there may be a list of approved providers. In all these case, don’t forget the importance of fit. Do your homework and consider speaking to a couple different therapists before committing.
National Certification - Looking up the Singapore Association for Counselling, the Singapore Psychological Society or the Singapore Association of Social Workers will give you a list of registered therapists or ability to search names. This can be helpful to check on credentials, but not much else since it doesn’t tell you who is available to work privately and doesn’t include the therapists who are registered with other national bodies.
Harris Interactive, comp. "THERAPY IN AMERICA 2004." On Behalf of Psychology Today and PacifiCare Behavioral Health (2004): n. pag. Apr. 2004. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.