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Common Questions

You hear a lot about people going to therapy or seeing a counselor, but it can be scary to visit a mental health professional for the first time. 

The good news is, it doesn't have to be. Here is everything you need to know about therapy and counseling, and how counseling can help you feel better, happier, or stronger in so many ways.

Bonus: A guide to help you find a counselor or therapist in your area to offer the type of support you need (see the end of the article). 

So, what is a therapist or counselor?

Good question! 

The terms "counselor" and "therapist" are often used interchangeably to describe a professional in a helping field who works with clients on relationship, personal and mental health issues.

Referred to as counselors for the remainder of this article, typically these experts have a master's degree or higher and have undergone extensive training to become licensed to practice in their state.

While this means that counselors are skilled at assisting clients with issues such as depression and anxiety, having a mental health concern is not a prerequisite for seeking help. In fact, counselors often see clients who are dealing with relationship, marital, personal growth issues, and many other matters that do not fall within the parameters of a diagnosable mental health concern.

Because of this, and a professional's great understanding of the human condition, counselors can be of assistance to anyone looking to make changes in their life, cope with troubling problems, heal old wounds or discover meaning and reason behind what is happening in their life.

Why do people work with counselors?

Counselors typically work one-on-one to help uncover the source of stress, pain, resentment, frustration etc. in a person's life.

Often, they help clients determine goals and set into motion a plan to create and sustain positive change. As the relationship between the counselor and client deepens, core issues will come into focus. It's not uncommon for a client to enter counseling with one goal in mind only to find that something different becomes the focal point of their work.

Because counseling is a week-by-week, dynamic experience, the content of the sessions will continually adjust and adapt to whatever life situations arise. Solutions and treatment plans are adjusted to mesh with changes in the client's life.

Counselors try to help clients cope with and resolve their problems so they will ultimately no longer need counseling. In order to reach this goal, both client and counselor must work together to uncover the root of the issues and generate realistic solutions that can be put into practice in the client's life.

What issues can a counselor help me with?

Counselors typically support clients with a number of issues, including relationship stress or marital conflict, difficulty with dating, infidelity, trust issues, commitment issues, dissatisfaction in the bedroom, money stress, dealing with breakups, separation, and divorce, and many others.

Counselors also help with non-specific concerns like self-esteem, managing periods of depression, periodic and ongoing anxiety concerns as well as a host of diagnosable issues. Counselors can specialize in areas like alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders and career counseling.

What happens when you see a counselor or therapist?

A counselor functions as a non-judgmental voice to help clients deal with and resolve emotional concerns. They provide a safe place where clients can talk about any and all problems on their mind. counselors are trained to listen in an objective manner and offer helpful feedback, insight, and clarification.

In the session, counselors usually operate in the role of a guide. Clients should expect a counselor to ask questions and encourage them to talk so they can delve more deeply into their issue. Counselors usually do not talk as much as the client because only the client knows where the pain and resistance lie, and the client is ultimately the one who will do the work to resolve the issue.

If you are seeking help, keep in mind that counselors will not solve your problems for you.

Their role is to help facilitate awareness. Insights that you make with the help of a  counselor help you make changes, choices and find a resolution for the concerns in your life. Working with a counselor can help just about anyone develop a better understanding of what they want from life. This work can also help increase harmony in all relationships — including your relationship with yourself.

Counselors in private practice will typically schedule 50-minute sessions with clients on a regular basis. Most commonly, meetings take place once a week, but can also be bi-weekly or monthly. Some counselors also see couples, groups, and families and have specialized training to deal with complex issues like infidelity, trauma recovery, or sex therapy. 

Most commonly, meetings take place once a week, but can also be bi-weekly or monthly. Some counselors also see couples, groups, and families and have specialized training to deal with complex issues like infidelity, stepfamilies, addiction and more.

Education and credentials of counselors and therapists

Requirements are determined on a state-by-state basis. Minimally, all counselors have a master's degree.

Some also have doctoral degrees and some partake in postgraduate clinical training programs. Most states also require continuing education courses to help the counselor stay current in their field.

If a person has credentials listed after their name, this is an indication of extended training.

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:
  
  • Attaining a better understanding of yourself, your goals and values
  • Developing skills for improving your relationships
  • Finding resolution to the issues or concerns that led you to seek therapy
  • Learning new ways to cope with stress and anxiety
  • Managing anger, grief, depression, and other emotional pressures
  • Improving communications and listening skills
  • Changing old behavior patterns and developing new ones
  • Discovering new ways to solve problems in your family or marriage
  • Improving your self-esteem and boosting self-confidence
  • Overcoming trauma and leaving it in the past

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 distress and the behavior patterns that interferes with 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 most cases, a combination of medication and therapy is the most effective course of action. 
 
 
Do you take insurance, and how does that work?
 
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:
 
  • What are my mental health benefits?
  • What is the coverage amount per therapy session?
  • How many therapy sessions does my plan cover?
  • How much does my insurance pay for an out-of-network provider?
  • Is approval required from my primary care physician? 
 
Does what we talk about in therapy remain confidential?
 
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 in the therapist's office.   Your therapist will provide you a written copy of their confidential disclosure agreement. 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 (such as your Physician, Naturopath, or Attorney), but by law your therapist cannot release this information without obtaining your written permission.
 
State law and professional ethics require therapists to maintain confidentiality, except for the following situations:
 
* Suspected past or present abuse or neglect of children, adults, and elders, which must be reported to Child Protection agencies and/or law enforcement, based on the type of information provided by the client or family members.
* If the therapist has reason to suspect the client is seriously in danger of harming him/herself or has threated to harm another person, this information must be reported to law enforcement.
 

 

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