Counselling isn’t regulated, not up to 2011 anyway. That means anybody can call themselves a counsellor. It is supposed to be becoming registered, but when that will be is anybody’s guess.
This means that you can have somebody who says they are a “Qualified Therapist”, or a “Certificated Counsellor” or anything else they like, and they might have done a weekend course, have read one book or have no qualifications at all, and be really dangerous. On the other hand, they might be qualified to Doctoral level, be absolutely brilliant, up to date and ethical, and they can’t give themselves a title that tells you how much better they are.
I think you need to make sure you’re dealing with somebody who is really well qualified, honest, ethical, keeps up to date on different methods, has appropriate insurance and who you can complain about and get barred from practicing if they are not good enough. That means the advisor needs at least a masters level education in the subject, a code of ethics and practice, compulsory ongoing professional development (and supervision) and to be subject to be struck off the register if there are complaints about them that are upheld.
There are various organisations which offer some regulation, but none are compulsory. So if somebody is struck off, they can potentially join another organisation, even assuming the first organisation can actually ban them.
However there are two organisations that have what I think are suitable standards. If the person you’re considering using isn’t in one of these two organisations, then check them out very carefully.
One is the British Psychological Society (BPS), the other the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
With the BPS the two categories of psychologist you need are Counselling and Clinical Psychologists. There is a psychologist directory which is searchable by area. You can look me up on there to check it’s working (postcode is RG42 3DX), but I’m an Occupational Psychologist, which is a different specialisation. I’m happy to see if I can help, but while I’m used to dealing with mild anxiety, depression etc. I’m not a Counselling or Clinical Psychologist and I may well need to refer you to somebody who has the specialist training to provide the assistance you need.
The situation is slightly complicated because while the BPS is the professional organisation, the register (the formal list and disciplinery actions like striking off) is now handled by the Health Professions Council. You can check whether somebody you are considering seeing is on the HPC register. Choose “Practitioner Psychologist” on the drop down menu under “step1: Select a profession” and put in the name. It tells you whether the person is currently registered with the HPC. Again, you can look me up on there to make sure you’ve got the system to work when you are trying to check on a psychologist with whom you might want to work.
The similar, but a bit simpler, set up with the BACP is via their find a therapist function. It isn’t quite the same level (Chartered Psychologist is a Doctoral level qualification, BACP isn’t necessarily that high) but anybody on the BACP list is technically good, does CPD and has supervision, has substantial real life practice of applying the theory to real people, and will be struck off if they do things wrong – much the same as the BPS/HPC listings.
You’ll often find that a psychologist will also be on the BACP list. They are separate organisations, but both have high standards and work to the same ends.
Within both groups you will find that the Counsellors have specialisations, some will deal particularly with issues like stress and anxiety, some will work principally with families or couples and so on. Pick somebody who is expert in the particular area(s) in which you want help, make sure they are appropriately registered etc. and talk to them. If you are dealing with your fears, problems etc. it is vital that you feel comfortable with them and no good Counsellor is going to mind if you feel the “chemistry” is just not right and you want to see somebody else. Make sure you feel at ease with them and that they are confident they can help you. If you do want help, get it. There’s no point struggling on alone, there are no prizes for it and if you can get help to feel yourself again, you’ll be back on top of things much quicker.