The American Counseling Associations defines counseling as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” Counseling is appropriate for anyone, at any stage in their life. Unfortunately, there can be a bit of a taboo around needing to see a counselor, and people who need help may be reluctant to reach out, even to see if counseling is right for them. The following are some common questions people have about counseling:
- Is there something wrong with me? Likely, the answer is no. People seek counseling for different reasons, such as wanting to feel happier, learning why they do certain things or feel certain ways, wanting help with decision-making, wanting help with a relationship, etc. There is nothing wrong with you for wanting to understand yourself better, and needing help to do so.
- How do I know if counseling will work? If you want to learn, change or practice something it will work, but it might take some time to find the right counselor for you. Make sure to interview potential counselors to see if they’re a good fit, and don’t be afraid to tell them they’re not and move on with your search.
- How do I know if it’s working? The best way to judge how your counseling is going is to set goals for yourself with your counselor, and then track your progress towards those goals. Your counselor will help you set realistic goals with realistic timelines, and help you if you’re having a hard time meeting those goals.
- What happens if it’s not working? Your counselor might change how you work together. They could introduce new types of therapy, and add homework and reading assignments between sessions. You might need to look into your relationship with your counselor, and make sure there is mutual respect, trust and warmth built up. Remember that it won’t work immediately.
- Do you have to tell your counselor everything? Your counselor should allow you to tell your story naturally, in its own time. They should make sure you’re comfortable with them before digging into hard topics. If you don’t want to tell them something, then don’t; however, the more open you are with them, the more help they’ll be able to give you.
- How long will it take? Since everyone, and every issue, is unique, it isn’t possible to put a time limit on how long it will take. However, if it doesn’t seem like counseling is helping at all by the fourth or fifth session, then changes might need to be made. As long as you communicate with your counselor, you should see some progress by then.
- What does the counselor do with the information they learn? State and federal confidentiality laws, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the National Association of Social Work Ethics prevent counselors from sharing information from counseling sessions. Exceptions might occur if there are cases of abuse, threats to yourself or others, or to provide care in emergencies.
It can be difficult to know the difference between when you aren’t feeling well, and when it’s time to ask for help. Some signs you should see a counselor include:
- Experiencing unexpected mood swings – if your thought process has become persistently negative, a counselor can help you get to the root of the problem
- Undergoing a big change – starting a new career, new family, or moving to a different city can all be challenging, and it’s normal to need assistance to cope with the changes.
- Withdrawing from things that used to make you happy – losing motivation, especially about something that you used to enjoy regularly, can be a sign that something is wrong.
- Feeling isolated or alone – many people struggle with feeling like they’re the only ones dealing with their particular issue; group therapy can help with that feeling of isolation.
- Using a substance to cope – turning to drugs or alcohol is not a healthy way to cope with problems in your life, and addiction is a serious medical condition.
- Feeling a loss of control – it can be difficult to feel like you’re in control of your own life when everything seems to be going wrong; counseling can help break down that thought process.
- Sleeping patterns disrupting – consistently getting too little sleep or too much sleep could be a sign of depression, and you might need help investigating the underlying cause.
- Feeling like you need to talk to someone – there is nothing wrong with talking to a counselor, and if you feel like you need to talk to a professional, reach out and try to find someone you feel comfortable talking to.
If you find yourself having thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, you should seek help right away through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.