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I. What's it like to get counseling?

You may search for a counselor near you to help solve problems in your life. Maybe you feel isolated or different from those around you, or perhaps you’re trying to conquer an addiction. You might find yourself trapped in negative thinking and want to make changes, or you may be trying to cope with grief after a loss. Many people seek counseling to deal with anxiety and depression.

You may benefit from counseling if you find yourself thinking obsessively about an issue through the day or if you sense that you’re losing control over your emotions and how you express them. Counseling can also be helpful if you’re turning to unhealthy behaviors to help you deal with stress. You may want to consider counseling if you find yourself avoiding people for any reason or if an issue is affecting your work and relationships badly.

Meeting with a counselor can give you the support and the tools you need to deal with the challenges you’re facing. Many people feel overwhelmed, lonely, or lost when dealing with their emotions, and their friends and family are most likely unable to provide the help needed. Professional counselors are trained to help people with all sorts of difficulties, including marriage and family problems, addiction issues, and mental health challenges.

Counselors use different approaches depending on your needs. In talk therapy, counselors listen to your concerns and guide you in subtle ways to take control of your life. Behavioral therapists focus on controlling negative thoughts and emotions to help you overcome anxiety, depression, and other self-sabotaging behaviors. Other therapists help you practice specialized techniques to cope with and overcome trauma, addictions, and marital problems.

II. How to find a counselor or therapist

Finding the right therapist is vital to getting the help you need. You want to find a counselor near you who really understands you. Asking people who know you well for referrals is one way to make the right connection — while a friend’s therapist may not be right for you, they may have a good suggestion. Your doctor or religious leader may have recommendations, or you may have access to a counseling center, perhaps at your school. Local organizations that advocate for people with eating disorders, domestic abuse survivors, or those with PTSD may also be able to suggest specific counselors who are trained in a specific area to address a need you have.

Sometimes the counselor who understands you best is nearer to your age, while other times, you might long for more mature instruction. Women often prefer female counselors, men may feel more comfortable talking to another man, and people in the LGBTQIA+ community are likely to want a counselor who can be sensitive to issues regarding sexual orientation.

Counselors typically have a master’s degree and are licensed to practice in your state. When you confirm that your counselor is qualified, you may also want to check out how long they’ve been practicing to make sure they have the experience to provide the support you need. Many counselors become certified or licensed in specialties, such as grief counseling, marriage and family counseling, addiction counseling, and more. Looking for someone who specializes in your area of concern can help you find a counselor who’s a good fit and who has the specific tools and technique to help you cultivate sustainable change in your life.

Fees charged by licensed counselors can vary quite a bit, so finding a therapist whose services fit your budget is also important. If you have insurance that covers mental health therapy, ask whether the counselor takes your insurance. Some counselors offer a sliding fee scale based on your ability to pay.

III. What does counseling help with?

Counselors help clients understand their issues and emotions, and they guide people through making behavioral changes. They provide the support needed through difficult times and help clients untangle a variety of problems and issues:

  • Marital and relationship issues: Problems within a relationship including infidelity, money problems, consideration of divorce, and sexual issues
  • Depression and other mood disorders: Persistently depressed mood, bipolar disorder, and mood swings
  • PTSD: Difficulties recovering from a traumatic event or series of events
  • Anxiety: Panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and any fears or worries that disrupt normal activities
  • Addictions: Eating disorders, substance abuse and dependence, gambling addictions, and other excessive behaviors

IV. How can you prepare for counseling?

Your counseling session will do you the most good if you prepare for it ahead of time. Take some time to think about what you hope to achieve through counseling, and write down any questions you have for your therapist. Focus on how you want to feel and the behaviors you want to change through therapy. If you feel nervous about beginning therapy, remind yourself that everything you tell your counselor is confidential and that your counselor’s goal is to help you.

V. What are counseling treatments?

Depending on the issues you’re facing, your counselor may recommend several treatment types, including behavioral changes that you can make at home. Your treatment may combine talk therapy, behavioral therapy, and medication to help you handle your issues and create change. Therapy options may include the following:

Talk therapy

Talking through negative feelings or fears can be therapeutic, but friends and family are rarely equipped to help you work through issues. Counselors trained in talk therapy can help you notice patterns of behavior, understand the source of negative emotions, improve your sense of confidence, and take control of the aspects of your life that are troubling you. Talk therapy is of value to those dealing with depression, anxiety, and phobias.

Behavioral therapy

The various forms of behavioral therapy all focus on the concept that psychological and emotional problems result from faulty ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. Behavioral therapists help you change your thinking through recognizing the faulty patterns, understanding other people’s behavior, facing fears, and developing confidence and coping skills. Counselors may also use role-playing and relaxation exercises to help establish new behavioral patterns. Behavioral therapy is beneficial for those dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic attacks, ADHD, depression, anxiety, anger management, and addiction issues, including eating disorders and substance abuse.

Medication

Some types of psychological issues respond well to specific medications. Antidepressant medications help combat depression, eating disorders, and bipolar disorders. Those facing anxiety disorders may benefit from antianxiety medications. People dealing with severe substance abuse problems may find them easier to deal with when taking medications that reduce cravings. Antipsychotic medication is of value for those with schizophrenia. In almost all cases, better results are achieved when psychological medications are paired with talk or behavioral therapy. Your counselor may recommend a doctor to prescribe any needed medication during your treatment sessions.

VI. What else can help?

While counseling alone is helpful to many people, practical exercises and lifestyle adaptations may help speed recovery. Depending on your issues, you may find peer support groups helpful, where people who have dealt with similar issues can empathize and share coping techniques. Your therapist may suggest delving into nature through outdoor exercise, working with animals, or gardening. Some people also find meditation, yoga, massage therapy, and other alternative therapies useful when dealing with negative emotions and thoughts between therapy sessions.

VII. Sources

Want to learn more about counseling and how it works? Take a look at the sources used in this guide.

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