Counseling, also referred to as talk therapy, is just what the name implies: a type of therapy during which you talk about your problems, emotions, and relationships. While there is a huge stigma around mental health in the United States and around the world, counseling isn’t just for people who are “sick.” Mental health is just as important as your physical health and it needs to be taken care of on a regular basis too.
Why do people go to counseling?
Plenty of people go to counseling (or therapy) when they’re struggling to understand what to do or how to feel about a particular situation. Common reasons include marriage, breakups, addiction, what degree program to pursue, feeling overwhelmed, feeling sad, and just needing someone to talk to. There is no wrong reason to pursue counseling, but it’s important to note that the end goal of getting counseling isn’t happiness, but to develop the skills to navigate your life confidently—which can ultimately lead to happiness.
What is counseling like?
Though all counselors are different, sessions generally follow the same pattern. You’ll talk one-on-one with a trained professional for about an hour at a time to work through anything that you may be struggling with in your life. They may ask questions to help you verbalize your thoughts and feelings, and to help them see the bigger picture, but not all sessions are strictly guided by your counselor. Feel free to talk about anything that’s on your mind. You can go for sessions weekly, biweekly, or monthly for as long as you and your counselor decide is necessary.
Note that unless you display suicidal or homicidal tendencies; talk about ongoing domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, or the abuse of individuals with disabilities; or are the subject of a court order, all of which require your counselor to act upon, doctor-patient confidentiality will protect your conversations.
How can counseling help me?
- Help you learn what motivates you to make decisions
- Help you work through your thoughts on a particular subject or subjects
- Help you discern between healthy and unhealthy relationships
- Help you discover your authentic self
- Help you reframe negative thoughts and/or find coping mechanisms that work for you
- Help you develop empathy; as your self-awareness grows, you’re more able to understand the actions and feelings of others
Additionally, counseling allows you to stop using your friends and family members (who are inherently biased toward you) as a sounding board and to talk to someone with a more objective view of things. Counselors are trained to be unbiased and nonjudgmental; they don’t know you or the people and situations you talk about and you don’t know them. This makes it easier for you to open up.
Be aware that counseling may cause you to realize something painful (e.g., that you are in a relationship that’s unhealthy, that you’re unable to cope with problems in a healthy way), but it’s ultimately for the better, because it’s only after realizing these things that you can change them.
How do I find a counselor?
In this day and age, it is easiest to search for a counselor online. Psychology Today hosts a search engine for people who are looking for counseling services, and it’s a great first place to start. You can search by zip code, gender, accepted insurance companies, language, the issues you need help with, and more. Each listing has a paragraph or two about the counselor as well as contact information. Reaching out to a few who fit your needs is simple.
Not all counseling needs to take place in person, though. Talkspace pairs you with a licensed counselor to whom you can talk to via text, any time you want. If your problems aren’t so significant that you feel like you need face-to-face interaction or if you’re nervous and want to dip in your toes to learn more about counseling as a whole, using a remote service might be best.
Your school may also have a mental health facility with counselors on-site, and it’s worth a phone call to find out. Services through your school are likely to be less expensive than the counseling you may receive from private practices.
Of course, you can always ask your friends, family, or primary care physician for recommendations and referrals as well.
If you or a friend are in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate support.
Is counseling financially feasible?
Lots of health insurance plans cover or at least partially cover counseling services. When searching for counselors, make sure you find a practice that accepts your insurance. You may be able to go for a reduced rate (or free!) at the mental health center associated with your college.
What is important to keep in mind if I’m considering counseling?
- Don’t start counseling unless you’re ready; you have to put a lot of effort into counseling in order to get anything out of it.
- Do shop around to find a counselor you click with; if you don’t trust your counselor, you’re not going to be able to make real progress.
- Don’t think that you have to hit rock bottom to find a counselor. Even if you’re relatively happy and stable, you could still benefit from talking through anxiety-inducing situations and learning more about who you are and how you work.
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