When should you seek counseling?
From childhood through late adulthood, there are certain times when we may need help addressing problems and issues that cause us emotional distress or make us feel overwhelmed. When you are experiencing these types of difficulties, you may benefit from the assistance of an experienced, trained professional. Professional counselors offer the caring, expert assistance that we often need during these stressful times. A counselor can help you identify your problems and assist you in finding the best ways to cope with the situation by changing behaviors that contribute to the problem or by finding constructive ways to deal with a situation that is beyond your personal control. Professional counselors offer help in addressing many situations that cause emotional stress, including, but not limited to:
- anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems and disorders
- family and relationship issues
- substance abuse and other addictions
- sexual abuse and domestic violence
- eating disorders
- career change and job stress
- social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness
- adopting to life transitions
- the death of a loved one
"Good indicators of when you should seek counseling are when you're having difficulties at work, your ability to concentrate is diminished or when your level of pain becomes uncomfortable," says Dr. Gail Robinson, past president of the American Counseling Association. "However, you don't want to wait until the pain becomes unbearable or you're at the end of your rope."
"If someone is questioning if they should go into counseling that is probably the best indicator that they should," says Dr. William King, a mental health counselor in private practice in Indianapolis, Indiana. "You should trust your instincts."
Joyce Breasure, past president of the American Counseling Association and a professional counselor who has been in private practice for more than 20 years, recommends counseling when you:
- Spend 5 out of 7 days feeling unhappy
- Regularly cannot sleep at night
- Are taking care of a parent or a child and the idea crosses your mind that you may want to hit that person
- Place an elder in a nursing home or in alternative care
- Have lost someone or something (such as a job)
- Have a chronic or acute medical illness
- Can no longer prioritize what is most important in your life
- Feel that you can no longer manage your stress
"If you're not playing some, working some, and learning some, then you're out of balance. There's a potential for some problems," Breasure says.
Robinson points out you don't have to be "sick" to benefit from counseling. "Counseling is more than a treatment of mental illness," she says. "Some difficult issues we face in life are part of normal development. Sometimes it's helpful to see what you're going through is quite normal."
What is professional counseling?
Professional counselors work with individuals, families, groups and organizations. Counseling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client. Professional counselors help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil; seek to improve communication and coping skills; strengthen self-esteem; and promote behavior change and optimal mental health. Through counseling you examine the behaviors, thoughts and feelings that are causing difficulties in your life. You learn effective ways to deal with your problems by building upon personal strengths. A professional counselor will encourage your personal growth and development in ways that foster your interest and welfare.
Who are professional counselors?
Licensed professional counselors provide quality mental health and substance abuse care to millions of Americans. Professional counselors have a master's or doctoral degree in counseling or a related field which included an internship and coursework in human behavior and development, effective counseling strategies, ethical practice, and other core knowledge areas.
Over 80,000 professional counselors are licensed in 48 states as well as the District of Columbia. State licensure typically requires a master's or doctoral degree, two to three years of supervised clinical experience, and the passage of an examination. In states without licensure or certification laws, professional counselors are certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Participation in continuing education is often required for the renewal of a license or certification.
Professional counselors adhere to a code of ethics that protects the confidentiality of the counseling relationship; prohibits discrimination and requires understanding of and respect for diverse cultural backgrounds; and mandates that professional counselors put the needs and welfare of clients before all others in their practice.
How can therapy help me?
A number of benefits are available from
participating in therapy. Therapists can provide support, problem-solving
skills, and enhanced coping strategies for issues such as depression,
anxiety, relationship troubles, unresolved childhood issues, grief, stress
management, body image issues and creative blocks. Many people also find that
counselors can be a tremendous asset to managing personal growth,
interpersonal relationships, family concerns, marriage issues, and the
hassles of daily life. Therapists can provide a fresh perspective on a
difficult problem or point you in the direction of a solution. The benefits
you obtain from therapy depend on how well you use the process and put into
practice what you learn. Some of the benefits available from therapy include:
a better understanding of yourself, your goals and values
skills for improving your relationships
resolution to the issues or concerns that led you to seek therapy
new ways to cope with stress and anxiety
anger, grief, depression, and other emotional pressures
communications and listening skills
old behavior patterns and developing new ones
new ways to solve problems in your family or marriage
your self-esteem and boosting self-confidence
Do I really need therapy? I can usually handle my problems.
Everyone goes through challenging situations
in life, and while you may have successfully navigated through other
difficulties you've faced, there's nothing wrong with seeking out extra
support when you need it. In fact, therapy is for people who have enough
self-awareness to realize they need a helping hand, and that is something to
be admired. You are taking responsibility by accepting where you're at in
life and making a commitment to change the situation by seeking therapy.
Therapy provides long-lasting benefits and support, giving you the tools you
need to avoid triggers, re-direct damaging patterns, and overcome whatever
challenges you face.
Why do people go to therapy and how do I know if it is right for me?
People have many different motivations for
coming to psychotherapy. Some may be going through a major life
transition (unemployment, divorce, new job, etc.), or are not handling
stressful circumstances well. Some people need assistance managing a
range of other issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety,
addictions, relationship problems, spiritual conflicts and creative blocks.
Therapy can help provide some much needed encouragement and help with
skills to get them through these periods. Others may be at a point
where they are ready to learn more about themselves or want to be more
effective with their goals in life. In short, people seeking
psychotherapy are ready to meet the challenges in their lives and ready to
make changes in their lives.
What is therapy like?
Because each person has different issues and
goals for therapy, therapy will be different depending on the individual.
In general, you can expect to discuss the current events happening in
your life, your personal history relevant to your issue, and report progress
(or any new insights gained) from the previous therapy session.
Depending on your specific needs, therapy can be short-term, for a
specific issue, or longer-term, to deal with more difficult patterns or your
desire for more personal development. Either way, it is most common to
schedule regular sessions with your therapist (usually weekly).
It is important to understand that you will
get more results from therapy if you actively participate in the process.
The ultimate purpose of therapy is to help you bring what you learn in
session back into your life. Therefore, beyond the work you do in
therapy sessions, your therapist may suggest some things you can do outside
of therapy to support your process - such as reading a pertinent book,
journaling on specific topics, noting particular behaviors or taking action
on your goals. People seeking psychotherapy are ready to make positive
changes in their lives, are open to new perspectives and take responsibility
for their lives.
What about medication vs. psychotherapy?
It is well established that the long-term
solution to mental and emotional problems and the pain they cause cannot be
solved solely by medication. Instead of just treating the symptom, therapy
addresses the cause of our distress and the behavior patterns that curb our
progress. You can best achieve sustainable growth and a greater sense of
well-being with an integrative approach to wellness. Working with your
medical doctor you can determine what's best for you, and in some cases a
combination of medication and therapy is the right course of action.
Do you take insurance, and how does that
To determine if you have mental health
coverage through your insurance carrier, the first thing you should do is
call them. Check your coverage carefully and make sure you understand
their answers. Some helpful questions you can ask them:
are my mental health benefits?
is the coverage amount per therapy session?
many therapy sessions does my plan cover?
much does my insurance pay for an out-of-network provider?
approval required from my primary care physician?
Does what we talk about in therapy remain
Confidentiality is one of the most important
components between a client and psychotherapist. Successful therapy requires
a high degree of trust with highly sensitive subject matter that is usually
not discussed anywhere but the therapist's office. Every therapist
should provide a written copy of their confidential disclosure agreement, and
you can expect that what you discuss in session will not be shared with
anyone. This is called “Informed Consent”. Sometimes, however,
you may want your therapist to share information or give an update to someone
on your healthcare team (your Physician, Naturopath, Attorney), but by law
your therapist cannot release this information without obtaining your written
However, state law and professional ethics
require therapists to maintain confidentiality except for the following
- Suspected past or present abuse or neglect
of children, adults, and elders to the authorities, including Child
Protection and law enforcement, based on information provided by the client
or collateral sources.
- If the therapist has reason to suspect the
client is seriously in danger of harming him/herself or has threatened to harm