Congratulations! If you are reading this, you have probably found it through SoCo Counseling’s “on-line presence,” via website blog, Google+ page, or some other means of cross posting. Perhaps you are reading this because you are shopping for a professional therapist. If that is the case, read on, my friend. I hope to be able to talk you into a different way of going about your search.

We’re all familiar with the way the Internet has revolutionized shopping for all kinds of goods and services. We can see ratings and reviews on the landscaper or plumber we are thinking of hiring. And an Internet search is very useful if you are looking for the closest place to have a key duplicated, or pick up a new coffee pot. I’d like to argue that you will benefit from being more selective about shopping when it comes to certain kinds of services – specifically, individual therapy, couples counseling or family therapy.

Those who recall relying on the Yellow Pages to find goods and services may remember that certain consumer decisions were considered too important to base on who had the largest ad, or which business happened to be a half-mile closer to home. Wise consumers of legal, financial, medical, or mental health services were more likely to ask around for a personal reference from a trusted friend, family member, or colleague, than to rely on advertising alone. We would ask our banker if he could recommend an accountant, or ask our doctor if she could recommend a counselor or psychotherapist.

With all the good and convenience the Internet has brought, much of it is, after all, one big advertisement. In selecting some consumer services, it may be ok to chose a plumber or electrician on the basis of on line reviews, if there are enough to offer a reasonable sample size. When it comes to selecting healthcare services, including mental health care, reviews can be misleading. Most health care practitioners don’t have a significant number of reviews to offer a reasonable sampling. In this field, it is unwise to solicit on-line reviews from those who know us best, out clients, because it would constitute asking those who trust us to breach their own confidentiality (exceptions include health care specific review sites, e.g. www.healthgrades.com and others like it).

As therapy Business Coach Lynn Grodzki says, “Thanks to the Internet, therapy is now increasingly accessible . . . Google can find a therapist in any zip code in just a few clicks, opening doors for potential clients seeking therapists and leveling the playing field for therapists seeking clients.” This level playing field is one in which any therapist can put up a decent web site. Therapists no longer have to rely on referrals from doctors with whom we have established a relationship, or former clients who might tell a friend how they liked our work. Unfortunately, Grodzki is right. I fear what this means for perspective clients who seek out individual or couples therapy based on who comes up first in a Google search, or which family therapy practitioner is closest to the kids’ school. The playing field is more level, but you can’t judge the quality of a counselor or therapist by his or her on line presence.

In seeking therapy or counseling services, I encourage you to do it the old fashioned way. Do some research. Ask around if you can. If you do need to rely on the Internet to find a mental health professional, ask if they will offer a free phone or face-to-face consultation before you commit to starting therapy sessions. There is a good chance you will be able to tell if you will be comfortable with the person over the course of a conversation. Once you’ve made the choice to seek professional counseling services to sort out some life issues, make a wise choice about who you trust to provide that service. It will pay off in better results in the end.