Thinking about counseling can cause anxiety and stress, and it may be a new experience for individuals who do not know what to expect when they meet with a counselor. I have listed a few common questions and posted answers to provide more information about counseling. If you have additional questions, please contact me.
Why do people seek counseling?
People seek counseling for many different reasons. However, most commonly it is when they are experiencing relationship difficulties, grief, abuse, stress, anxiety, or depression. Often it is when people notice that other areas of their lives are affected by these issues that they will seek a professional for support and guidance.
Is having a counselor a sign of weakness? Shouldn’t I be able to handle things on my own?
Actually, seeking professional help when you are experiencing challenges is a sign of strength. Isolation and fear often prevent people from seeking professional assistance which can sometimes delay a resolution. This delay keeps them from leading the lives they often desire. In addition, parents model positive life skills for their children. When parents seek professional assistance for challenges that they, or other family members, are experiencing, they remove the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness. This step can be empowering for parents, children, and further generations.
Many people seek family members and/or their friends to discuss their concerns. However, working with a counselor is different. Your counselor is not impacted by family roles, history, or expectations; they will try to understand your feelings and experiences through you. The goal of a counselor is to create an environment that is supportive and safe so you feel that you are able to talk openly, honestly, and without judgment.
Does it matter which counselor I see?
Yes. The relationship that you have with your counselor is an important part in whether counseling is a positive or negative experience. You want to make sure that you and your counselor are right for each other. The first meeting with a counselor is an opportunity to find out his or her philosophical approach to counseling. Each philosophical approach is very different. It may or may not meet your goals or feel comfortable to you. For example, psychodynamic therapists may want to explore your childhood and relationships with your primary caregivers in an effort to help you understand how your past is impacting your current situation. Behavioral counselors may look at how your current behaviors are directly (or indirectly) impacting the concerns you want to address, and they may want you to make behavioral changes. Humanistic counselors concentrate on the therapist-client relationship to further a client’s growth and healing through trust and understanding of ones’ individual wishes, needs, and desires. Many counselors now integrate different approaches in their therapeutic practice, so seeking clarification can be helpful.
In order to the get the greatest benefits from counseling, please ask questions in your initial visit and following sessions with a counselor. It is incredibly important that you and your counselor are communicating so that you are getting the full benefits of the counseling experience.
There are times when a client and counselor are not a good fit. Either the counselor may feel that he or she is not fully experienced in certain areas, or you may feel the counselor you have chosen is, for any reason, not what you are looking for. A referral to another therapist may be requested at any time if you would prefer to see another counselor. I would encourage you to talk about this with your counselor as he or she will provide you with a referral.
Are my conversations with the counselor kept confidential?
Counselors are bound by laws which require them to provide absolute confidentiality and privacy to their clients with limited exceptions. They are not to disclose any personal or identifying information to anyone outside of the therapist-client relationship without the client’s written consent, or in the case of a minor under the age of 13 without the written consent of his or her parent or legal guardian, in the State of Washington.
Exceptions to confidentiality include the following: (1) imminent harm to yourself or another individual; (2) physical or sexual abuse or neglect of a minor, elder, or vulnerable adult; (3) when required by subpoena or other compulsory process; (4) if claims are submitted to your insurance company, they may require information about your treatment; and (5) if you commit a crime against the counselor or on his or her premises or if he or she needs to defend claims made against him or her.
If you have other questions or concerns about confidentiality, please discuss this with your counselor or contact Department of Health, Business and Professional Administration, P.O. Box 9012, Olympia, WA, 98504-8001, 360-753-1761.
Yvonne Clayton, MA, LMHC