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June 2016: Choosing a counsellor

Introduction

The reasons why some people choose to seek assistance through counselling while others do not are many and varied, but in order for clients to reap the most benefit from counselling it is important for them to choose the right therapist.

People seek information to inform their choice of counsellor from different sources.  Commonly cited information sources include written materials such as books and brochures, the Yellow Pages, conversations with the service, and recommendations from family and friends.  Given the wide range of information available on the internet, it is also likely that many people use online searching as their main avenue for sourcing information.

There are also many ways to describe how positively people find their experience of therapy once they have chosen a counsellor.  Contemporary studies identify a person’s capacity to address their problems, the counsellor’s ability to identify their problem, the client’s willingness to participate in homework and co-morbid health conditions as important factors.  Each therapist will also bring different insight and experience to the service.  Evidence suggests that nearly all therapist characteristics, including education, specialist skills, length of experience and gender, are associated with the likelihood that a client will report a positive experience.  In particular, therapists’ interpersonal skills and how well people relate to their therapist have been positively associated with engagement.

Relationships Australia’s June online survey sought to understand how people accessing Relationships Australia’s website undertake research to find a counsellor, how confident they feel in sourcing the information they need to make informed choices, and their experience of counselling.

Previous research finds that…

  • couples wait about six years before getting help
  • information from health professionals, followed by the internet and books are the most commonly cited sources of useful information by peolpe seeking information about their health
  • information provided by health professionals has been associated with the most positive satisfaction ratings when compared to other commonly cited sources of information
  • The type of information that receives the most favourable endorsement by people seeking information about their health condition varies by age, race, education and location

Results

Almost 2,200 people responded to the Relationships Australia online survey in June 2016, with just under four-fifths of survey respondents (79%) identifying as female.

As was the case for last month’s survey, more females than males responded in every age group (figure 1).  Almost ninety per cent of survey respondents were aged between 20‑59 years, with the highest number of responses collected for women aged between 30-39 years (inclusive).

The demographic profile of survey respondents remains consistent with our experience of the people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

A substantial majority of men (86%) and women (93%) survey respondents reported that they had considered counselling, but not all were currently attending or had previously attended.  More than 17 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men were currently attending counselling, while more than half of women (53%) and just under half of men (48%) had attended counselling in the past (figure 2).

Survey respondent were asked how they would conduct research to find a counsellor (figure 3).  Women were most likely to report that they would rely on recommendations from another service such as a doctor or health professional (49%) or online research (41%) to find a counsellor.  Men were most likely to report online research (45%) or secondly a recommendation from another service (35%) such as a doctor or health professional as the main sources of information for locating a counsellor.  The third most popular source of information cited by men for finding a counsellor was a recommendation from a friend or relative (24%).  Women were most likely to report a recommendation from another servcie such as a doctor or health professional (49%), followed by online searching (41%) and then a recommendation from a friend or relative (30%).

Thirteen per cent of survey respondents reported that they would speak to the service, while fewer than eight per cent would source written materials such as brochures and booklets.  Fewer than eight per cent of survey respondents would not or did not conduct research to find a counsellor.  Women were more likely to conduct research from multiple sources than men.

There were no significant differences between the reports of men and women when they were asked about the availability of information needed to select a counsellor.  Half of survey respondents (49%) reported that the information they needed to select a counsellor was available to them.  A further 14 per cent reported that this information was not available to them, and 21 per cent were not sure if this information was available to them.

Women were less confident than men of their knowledge of what questions to ask a counsellor to determine whether they had selected the right person.  Forty-eight per cent of women and 41 per cent of men reported that they did not know what questions to ask their counsellor.  Around one-sixth of survey respondents (14%) were not sure whether they knew what questions to ask their counsellor, while a further one-fifth (20%) reported that they knew what questions to ask their counsellor to make sure they had selected the right person.  Just under 20 per cent of survey respondents reported that they had never seen a counsellor.

Fifty per cent of survey respondents who had attended counselling reported that, after the first session, they believed they had selected the right person.  More than one-fifth (21%) reported that they didn’t belive they had selected the right person, while a further one-third (29%) reported that they were unsure as to whether they had selected the right person.

Overall, a substantial majority (71%) of survey respondents who had seen a counsellor reported that it was a worthwhile experience for them.  One-sixth (15%) reported that it was not a worthwhile experience, while a further one-sixth (14%) were undecided whether seeing a counsellor was a worthwhile experience for them.

References

Holdsworth, E, Bowen, E, Brown, S and Howat, D, 2014, Client engagement in psychotherapeutic treatment and associations with client characteristics, therapist characteristics, and treatment factors, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 34 (5)

Gilbert, SM, Sanda, MG, Dunn, RL, Greenfield, TK, Hembroff, L, Klein, E, Saigal, CS, Pisters, L, Michalski, J, Sandler, HM, Litwin, M, Wei, JT, 2013, Satisfaction with information used to choose prostate cancer treatment. J Urol. 2014 May;191(5):1265-71.

Owen, J,  Smith, A and Rodolfa, E, 2009, Clients' Expected Number of Counseling Sessions, Treatment Effectiveness, and Termination Status: Using Empirical Evidence to Inform Session Limit Policies, Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Volume 23(2):118-134

Petch, J, Lee, J, Huntingdon, B, and Murray, J, 2014, Couple Counselling Outcomes in an Australian Not for Profit: Evidence for the Effectiveness of Couple Counselling Conducted Within Routine Practice, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, Volume 35:445–461

Acknowledgement

Relationships Australia acknowledges the assistance of Mentally Friendly in developing the questions for this month’s survey

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites