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?
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?
- 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.
Why do people go to therapy and how do I know if it is right for me?
- 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?