Many people think that you have to be “crazy” or extremely dysfunctional to seek out the services of a mental health counselor. The truth is that most people can benefit.
Here are some of the best reasons to see a counselor
• Manage anxiety. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety. In therapy you can learn ways to reduce the potency of stressful experiences. This improves both your emotional well-being and physical health.
• Understand yourself. Sometimes our motivations and feelings can be mysterious. A skilled counselor can help you unearth the origins of your behaviors and emotions. Insight can lead to positive change.
• Gain clarity about your purpose. What do you want out of life? What is meaningful to you? How do you balance freedom and responsibility? Counseling can help you discover what is truly important and help you focus your energies towards those goals.
• Learn to grieve. Sadness is a normal part of the human experience. Counseling can help normalize your reactions to difficult events and losses and help you express and move through the darkness.
• Develop new skills. Counseling can help you learn more effective ways to communicate, to ask for what you need, express feelings and understand the feelings and needs of your family and friends. You can create self-care strategies that include self-compassion and self-forgiveness. In counseling you can learn what healthy boundaries look like and how to stand-up for yourself.
• Improve relationships. Many people wait until their marriage or primary relationship is in serious trouble before seeking help. But by then, it can be too late. Counseling early in a relationship or when problems first appear can help set the stage for healthy communication, create understanding of our partner’s personality and needs and help develop realistic expectations of the relationship.
How to Choose a Counselor
• Find a good fit. Many practitioners offer a free 30 minute consultation. Take advantage of this by setting up appointments with two or three different therapists. Meet and talk with them about their approach to counseling and typical length of treatment for your situation. What is their training and experience? What are their strengths? How do they collaborate with others on your health care team?
• Ask lots of questions. For example if you are interested in treatment for anxiety, ask your therapist if they provide an evidence based approach. (This is a treatment that has been researched and shown to be effective.) Ask how much experience and training the therapist has in providing the treatment you are interested in.
• Get recommendations. For example, ask your primary care physician, your chiropractor, family and friends to recommend a counselor. Ask them why they believe in that person’s abilities and how they know about them.
• Confirm eligibility. If you will be using insurance check to make sure the counselor you have chosen can accept your insurance.
• Ask about sliding scale. Many counselors offer a reduced rate to fee for service clients.
• Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. While it is normal to feel some anxiety when beginning counseling, the counselor’s task is to put you at ease and build trust and rapport. If that isn’t happening consider switching to a different practitioner.
• Advocate for yourself. If you are not getting what you want from counseling but have developed a strong relationship with your therapist, ask for what you need. Most counselors will be happy you have spoken up and given them the opportunity to be more effective.