Some people are reluctant to seek out counseling when they have problems, and believe that strong and healthy people should be able to resolve all their issues on their own. Others believe that talking with a counselor is about the same as talking with a good friend. But there are many good reasons for seeing a counselor when life becomes especially difficult . . .
Therapy is confidential.
When you talk with a friend or family member, you may run the risk of having your most vulnerable secrets shared with others. But with few exceptions, a counselor is legally required to keep what that happens in your sessions confidential. The exceptions to this requirement are:
· If you represent a threat to yourself or someone else, the counselor must involve whoever needs to be involved to prevent the threatened harm.
· If the counselor finds out about child abuse that is occurring or has occurred in the past (even if it happened many years ago), the counselor is required to report that abuse to the authorities.
· If you are under 15 years old, the counselor may need to share some things about your therapy with your parents.
Mental health is as important as physical health.
If you broke your leg, would you expect yourself, your family members or your friends to be able to set it for you? If you were experiencing a series of unexplained physical symptoms would you not see a doctor to diagnose and treat the problem? Is your mental/emotional health any less complex than your physical health? Of course not! That is why a counselor can be a valuable resource when you are trying to make sense of mental, emotional or relational difficulties.
In fact, mental health is integral to physical health: it is impossible to separate our physical selves from our mental and emotional selves. The healthier you are mentally and emotionally, the more likely you are to recover from or cope with physical problems. If you are facing problems with your physical health, chances are that seeing a counselor in addition to a medical professional can greatly aid in your overall improvement.
Your mental health affects your family and friends (and vice versa).
Your family relationships affect your mental health. Likewise your mental health affects your family members and the family as a whole. The same can be said of any person or group you have significant relationships with, whether they be at work, in your neighborhood, or even with friends or family members who are geographically distant. A counselor can help you sort out how these various relationships affect you, and how you can relate more effectively with important people in your life.
If you are a parent, your mental health has an enormous effect on your children. When you take an airline flight, the flight attendant instructs you to (in the case of an emergency) put the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose before helping your children or other dependent persons with theirs. Likewise you need to attend to your own mental health before you can assist your children with theirs. Though sometimes it is not immediately apparent, children tend to be very sensitive to their caregivers’ emotions. In fact, some families find that when the adults resolve their own problems, the children’s problems simply disappear.
A counselor is less biased than your friends and family members.
One of the problems with seeking advice from friends and family members is that they are often personally invested at some level in your behavior and the decisions you make. They may suggest you make choices that make them more comfortable, regardless of whether those are the best choices for you. It’s not that they necessarily are selfish, but their lives are so interwoven with yours that they can’t step outside your situation sufficiently to get an unbiased view. The closer the relationship, the more this is true. This is one reason why it is considered unethical for a counselor to treat a friend or family member. While no one can be totally unbiased, the very lack of a previous relationship with the counselor benefits you. In fact, a good counselor rarely, if ever, gives advice at all. Instead, he/she helps you look at your situation from a variety of perspectives, then choose the course of action that serves you best while still taking your significant relationships into consideration. Once you enter into therapy, a positive, trusting therapeutic relationship with the counselor must be developed in order for the process to help you. But the counselor has a responsibility to prevent his/her own interests from interfering with yours.
Counseling is a finite process.
Counseling does not last forever. Typically a client meets with the therapist once a week for a little less than an hour, although any mutually agreed-upon schedule is possible. Once your therapist has talked with you enough to gather a relatively complete personal history and has determined with you the goals for your therapy, he or she should be able to give you a sense of whether you can expect the process to take weeks, months, or in some cases, years. But the counselor has some therapeutic tools or strategies that can help you achieve positive results in less time than you might expect. EMDR, in particular, is a therapeutic strategy that has show significant success in shortening the duration of therapy for many people. (See my Related Links page for more information on EMDR)
A counselor will work to maintain your autonomy.
Any good counselor will always be aiming at maintaining or increasing your level of autonomy (your ability to make your own decisions and take responsibility for your own actions). It would be unethical for any counselor to try to manipulate or control you. You set your own goals (in consultation with the therapist), you have the right to refuse any particular strategy or activity that the counselor might propose, to seek a second opinion at any time, and to end counseling whenever you please. However, it is advisable to talk to the counselor about any of these decisions before making them.
A counselor can help you find the resources you need to resolve your problems.
A counselor is aware of community resources that may help you reach your goals. He/she may also be able to help you become more aware of and more able to effectively use your own internal and external strengths and resources. These may include, among other things, your own personality traits, skills, spirituality and values as well as supportive friends, family members and groups you belong to. Many people tend to underestimate their own strengths and abilities. A good counselor can provide a more realistic and accepting view of yourself so you can make whatever changes you deem necessary and move forward in your life.
Mental Health Therapists are well trained.
Check the credentials of your prospective counselor. It is still legal to practice psychotherapy in Colorado without any training or license at all, though this situation will soon end. There are a variety of licenses in the Mental Health Field: In Colorado we have: Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and Licensed Addictions Counselors. All those licenses require at least a master's degree. A licensed Psychologist must have either a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Clinical Psychologist) degree. Psychiatrists are the only ones of these that can prescribe medications, and they must be MDs.
LPC stands for Licensed Professional Counselor, and this license is granted by the state of Colorado. The requirements for this credential include having a master’s degree from a counseling program requiring coursework in counseling theories and techniques, ethics and professionalism, social and cultural foundations of counseling, human growth and development, career and lifestyle development as well as others, and also two semesters of a supervised field experience (practicing counseling with real clients under the supervision of a licensed therapist). In addition to that master's degree, the licensee applicant must pass a national exam covering all these areas and submit evidence of 2000 hours of counseling practice following receipt of the master’s degree. These hours must be supervised by a mental health professional licensed in the state of Colorado and must take place over at least two years following the degree. Many counselors who have master's degrees in counseling are in the process of pursuing the LPC credential.