Published on January 10th, 2014 | by Heather Villalta

10 Things You Should Know About Counseling

Sometimes one of the best ways you can take care of yourself is by turning to a professional listener.

These people are known as therapists, counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists. (The differences between those roles are outlined in our article How to Find the Right Mental Health Care Professional.)

Many people hear that counseling would be beneficial for them and their lives but are hesitant to seek help because they’re not sure what to expect. Since it helps to be a well-informed client and to know what you need out of counseling, here’s my list of 10 things to know before seeing a counselor.

1. There are many different types of counseling.

The stereotypical view of talk-therapy is lying on a couch and talking about your childhood while the therapist nods his head and scribbles things down on a sheet of paper.

This is far from the reality of counseling for most people today. There are specific therapies and techniques that help specific people with their needs and more general techniques that are beneficial for a wide range of needs.

Different counselors specialize in different techniques, and while some therapists are adaptive (or “eclectic”), others strongly believe in using only one type of therapy. You should be able to find the right mental health care professional to meet and treat your needs.

2. The most important factor in a positive therapy outcome is the counselor-client relationship.

Study after study has shown that across the various types of therapeutic treatments, the most impacting factor in therapy is whether the client and therapist work well together.

This means they trust each other and have good rapport. This also means they are focused on solving the client’s problems and achieving his or her goals, while staying able to recognize and resolve conflicts in the counseling relationship itself.

You may find a counselor who looks great on paper, helps many people, and is trained in exactly what you need, but if your personalities clash, the counseling will probably not be as effective as it could be.

Discovering someone with whom you are comfortable is the number one priority in finding a good counselor. Read more about client-counselor relationships in our article How to Have a Good Relationship with Your Therapist.

3. Counseling is hard work.

Counseling can be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult.

There is homework and challenging things to think about. You may have to make difficult decisions or face painful memories.

There is no way around the work, but the benefits that you reap from counseling are more than worth the time, effort, and money put into it.

the benefits of a professional listener 10 things you should know about counseling4. You may think you know what you need counseling for, but you may be wrong.

Some problems and difficulties are fairly straight-forward. You know why you are struggling, and you know how a counselor can help. Other problems, however, can be much more complex.

Be prepared to have your perspective challenged and your viewpoint expanded and quite possibly to work on things you never knew you needed to.

5. Counseling is about you, not those around you.

No one is perfect, and a counselor’s job is to help you change yourself in order to change your situation, not allow you to show up and talk about how other people and things keep getting in the way of your happiness or peace.

Counseling is not about your counselor telling you how right you are to have the perspectives you have. It is about how you can change to positively impact the problems and relationships around you.

Also: It is a chance to look at yourself and not have to worry about the other person thinking you’re selfish.

This is one huge advantage to a professional counselor: there is no give-and-take. The professional listener is being paid to focus on you and your discoveries. Sometimes it takes this level of attention and focus (with an experienced person’s help) to see as clearly as you need to.

6. It may take some time to see improvement.

Counseling is not like aspirin: take two and call in the morning. Sometimes therapy can take weeks or months to show a positive change. That doesn’t mean counseling isn’t working.

However, you should notice some significant differences by 6 months at most. If you are not noticing any positive changes by then (or sooner), have a conversation with your counselor. He or she may see things you do not see or may be able to change the strategy to better assist you.

If you still are not making progress, you might need to consider changing counselors.

7. You may need to try out a few counselors before finding the right one.

A counselor may not be as beneficial as you first thought or may be able to help you with only part of your journey through life.

Switching counselors does not mean you have “failed” at therapy or that your counselor isn’t good at her job. It just means your needs have changed or you have clarified your needs enough to know that what you currently have is not working.

Moving to a new counselor who can better help you can actually be a sign of positive progress. For one woman’s story about trying multiple counselors to find the right fit, see: It’s Not Me, It’s You.

8. Your counselor needs to be licensed.

Different counselors provide different services, but most are licensed.

Run away from one whose license is expired, suspended, or revoked, or who does not have a license.

The common types of counselors have either a master’s degree or a doctorate in psychology or counseling and have been properly trained and licensed to provide mental health care services.

You can check the status of a provider’s license online in most states in the USA using her license number (she should be very willing to give it to you).

9. The only people who can prescribe psychiatric (mental health) medications are doctors.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors whose specialty is mental health medication. Most do not provide therapy, although there are some exceptions who do.

Psychiatrists often work with you and your therapist to determine whether you need psychiatric medications and whether the medications prescribed are working effectively.

If your counselor determines you need medication, she will refer you to a psychiatrist.

10. Counselors are bound by confidentiality.

There are many different rules that counselors have to abide by. These include confidentiality and making sure to set appropriate boundaries.

Counselors must keep all conversations shared in counseling confidential. This means they cannot share what you have told them to anyone for (almost) any reason. The only exceptions to this rule are revealed abuse or if they think you might be a threat to yourself or someone else. In those cases, they will only share what is absolutely necessary to help you.

They may also divulge details to a supervisor (while not using any identifying information) to get advice on how to best assist you. You can ask your counselor what her confidentiality policy is to determine details that may vary from region to region and from counselor to counselor.

If you have concerns about starting counseling, you might like reading 5 Fears About Seeking Help for Mental Health.

Photo by Muriel Miralles de Sawicki via Stock.Xchng.

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