Why Counseling is a Valuable Life Asset for You
Counseling has its beginnings helping the average person who is going through difficult circumstances. In this post I explain why everyone can benefit from having their own personal counselor and how to find someone who will be the right fit for you.
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What is Counseling?
When most people think of counseling, I believe many people immediately think of Freud and his psychoanalysis. The client laying on the couch, the counselor sitting behind him taking notes and staring blankly, maybe throwing out some Rorschach assessments as well. I’d guess that many people also think of psychiatric facilities and their associated stereotypes next.
Padded walls, absent and unethical doctors, maybe some rats scurrying around, patients engaging in illogical speech and behaviors. These images beg the questions, “How could that be beneficial to anyone?” and, “Why would I, the average person, need mental health care?”.
Counseling is likely not what you think it is. If you thought of either of the above scenarios, your counseling experience today will likely be much different than these stereotypes because the field of counseling has grown and changed greatly in the past fifty-ish years, but also has been confounded by other helping fields, such as psychiatry, psychology, and social work.
The Origins of Counseling
Prior to the 1940’s, the majority of mental health work was done by psychiatrists and psychologists who had medical degrees. These professionals worked with individuals whom they believed to have personality disorders or biochemical imbalances. Cue the elite Sigmund Freud and colleagues. Psychiatry still functions from this basic model today – patients have something wrong with them and the medical professional is qualified diagnose and fix the issue.
The Coconut Grove Nightclub
However, the Coconut Grove nightclub fire of 1942 suggested that mental health difficulties could be the result of situational experience rather than biological deficit. Community mental health workers (e.g. counselors), not just psychiatrists and medical doctors, could help people alleviate their symptoms (Kanel, 2015).
The Wellesley Project was established by Eric Lindemann and Gerald Caplan to work with average people who had experienced difficult situations like the death of a loved one (Kanel, 2015).
Caplan later coined the term “preventative psychiatry”, suggesting that community mental health workers (e.g. counselors) could help people grow in the absence of difficulty (Kanel, 2015). Lindemann and Caplan’s work teach us that normal people can have normal reactions to difficult situations.
Therefore, normal people need help to get through the experience. We can also learn that normal people can make exceptional progress beyond that of symptom mitigation and crisis intervention that serves as a protective factor for future difficult situations.
In other words, a father might be functioning well with his spouse and two sons. However, if one of his sons dies, the father will likely be affected by the grief. He will likely have trouble functioning during the bereavement period. The father could experience improvement through counseling during this time, and also learn skills that could help him with future losses.
A More Accurate Picture
The purpose of counseling is to help the average person(s) through difficult events in their lives. Practically, the counseling session will look different depending on the client and the counselor (more on that later), but overall the general purpose and tactic is the same throughout the counseling field.
Counseling provides an avenue for the client to build a trusting relationship with the counselor, process the events that they are struggling with, learn skills to cope with difficult events in the future, and change as a result of the relationship. This is an opportunity that many of us don’t have in our personal lives.
A Counselor is Different
Sure, mom might be the one that you talk to about your relationship issues, but mom has her own difficulties. She might start to dislike your spouse and cause difficulties during family events if you keep telling her that your husband is lazy and rude. An ethical counselor won’t do that.
Or, your best friend that you talked to every week in college has her own family now, and has less time to help you through things. A counselor has time. Or, maybe you never have had someone you trusted enough to share your heart with. That’s where a counselor comes in.
Mom and best friend have (likely) not had training in formal counseling theories. Do you realize that in order to be called a counselor in the United States you have to have an undergraduate and a graduate degree, pass a difficult exit exam, and have (most of the time) thousands of hours of experience? That’s the equivalent of about ten years of training!
Also, as good as your mom or your best friend are, I’d venture to say that they are not as well trained, and they aren’t seeking out continuing education opportunities to learn what the most up-to-date research suggests regarding evidence-based counseling practices. To maintain their licenses, counselors are required to attend a number of seminars, training opportunities, and classes to further their expertise every. single. year.
During the counseling session, the counselor is listening to you, formulating treatment goals with you, and introducing effective and pertinent skills for your improvement. Counselors are able to meet you where you are at right now, and also formulate a conceptualization of your concerns as a whole to create an ideal trajectory for your future in counseling. That’s a lot for a one-hour service!
Having a counselor is a valuable asset because they have years of training and experience helping other people just like you and can juggle the many parts of your entire story.
Finding the Right Counselor
Earlier, I emphasized the importance of the counseling relationship between the client and the counselor. In school, professors and textbook authors explain that about 60% of change within the client is due to the relationship, regardless of the theory or practice of choice of the counselor. This statistic implies that no matter your counselor’s expertise or bent, the relationship that you form with them and the process of telling your story through the trusting relationship will bring healing and growth.
So, don’t worry too much about your counselor’s bio. Think more along the lines of, “Do I connect with this person?”, “Do I believe this person is actively listening and genuinely understands me?”, and “Do I trust this person?”. These questions will help you know if you’ve been able to form that relationship that produces 60% of change in the counseling office.
You Can Switch if You Need to
If the answer to these questions is “no”, that’s okay! You can change counselors. I won’t hurt our feelings, I promise. While it is unethical for us to abandon clients, choose clients based on life experiences, or consider how comfortable we are with their demographics, YOU CAN! Go pick the counselor who looks like you if you want. Or find the counselor who has been in remission for thirty years if you want. Go find the counselor who does research in attachment, or trauma, or career counseling if you want. And if you don’t think they’re a good fit after a few sessions, go find a new one. Actively participate in your wellness journey.
Now, I have one caveat to add to this: counseling is hard work. Often times, you will recognize that you might not be doing life the best way. Maybe it’s a small thing, or maybe it’s time to make big change. Either way, noticing areas of discomfort or areas that need growth is NOT a reason to change counselors. If you switched counselors every time you noticed something difficult about yourself, you’d never make it to the improvement part and you’d never grow. And that’s the fun part, isn’t it?
Search for the counselor who helps you grow through the opportunity to process your own story.
Like what you see?
Still not convinced?
Maybe the stigma of mental health has you worried what people might think. It’s possible that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t have the time or money right now. Maybe you don’t think you’re ready to process and grow.
That’s okay too.
Find your counselor when you’re ready. Don’t worry, we’ll still be here whenever you decide that you need us. In fact, the counseling profession is growing, and many of us are available online too to best meet your needs and your schedule.
There’s never a poor time to start the counseling journey.
Want to find a counselor of your own?
- Check out Psychology Today and search by area to find a counselor near you.
- Talk to a friend who’s had success with a counselor in the past.
- Discuss with your primary care physician to get a formal referral.
Let me know what qualities you’ve appreciated from your counselor, or what questions you have about the counseling process.
Kanel, K. (2015). A guide to crisis intervention (fifth ed.) Stamford: CENGAGE
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Lat Updated: September 30, 2020