This is my first time, ever, to counseling – what can I expect?

First of all, you are due some praise [pat on the back] [smile] for realizing you have a need and taking steps toward better self-care.  Believe it or not, that may just be the hardest part.  Next comes finding the right professional to serve as your guide in this journey you’ve chosen to partake in.  This works different ways for different people.  Some choose to go with a counselor whose name is provided to them on a list of counselors from their insurance company.  Some know a friend/relative who suggests a counselor that helped them.  Others go online to sites such as Psychology Today, Google, or Open Path and read the profiles of counselors in their area until they find someone who feels like a good fit.

Counselor, Social Worker, Psychologist, Psychiatrist.  What’s the difference?  Important to know, a psychiatrist (and in maybe a couple of states, a psychologist) is the only one able to prescribe meds.

The counselor is contacted and the appointment is made.  It can be expected that somewhere along the line, prior to the appointment or at the appointment, there will be paperwork to complete and information shared, both ways.

In session.  Counseling is meant to be a place, whether in-person or online, where issues that you bring to session are processed.  This processing is meant to bring understanding, resolution, acceptance, and/or change. Counseling is a safe place to allow for the expression of emotion or bringing those thoughts from inside your head to the light of day.  It could involve practice or role play where a need for action is anticipated. Or, it could mean examination of a problem from different perspectives to have a different and fuller understanding.  Counseling can be educational, practical in the sense that new skills (improved communication, relationship strategies, anger management, relaxation) are introduced, or just a place to “get it out”.  That’s the long way of saying, the experience is not the same for everyone.

Some tips for finding a counselor:

  • if you’re comfortable with it, ask people you trust for recommendations
  • make sure the counselor is licensed, or registered to become licensed, in the state where you are seeking counseling (by being licensed the counselor is expected to have met certain minimum educational requirements which include a Masters-level degree and continuing education, hours and hours of training under the supervision of a licensed counselor, and to have passed an extensive exam. More importantly, they are expected to adhere to Rules, Laws, and a Code of Ethics).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, this is your time and money too.
  • Take advantage of free consultations, by telephone or in person, as a way to determine if you and the counselor will be a good fit.

Going to counseling is another form of self-care.  Contrary to popular belief  ?  crying is not required. It may happen, so might laughter, anger, a sense of relief…. All that is good too.