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Counseling creates an empowering relationship between you and your therapist. A counselor helps you seek solutions to current issues in your daily life, can help you set goals, and develop a strategy to reach them. In the process, you learn to improve your self-esteem, behaviors, and coping skills. Counselors keep their work with you confidential.
People seek counseling for a wide range of reasons. You may want help addressing major life events or changes, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a new marriage, or parenting issues. Counseling can help you work through mental health problems, like depression or anxiety, in a productive and supportive environment. In some cases, you may seek counseling as part of a journey of self-improvement or when you feel stuck or lost.
Counseling can help you understand the problems you’re facing and come up with solutions. Counselors help you explore your own history to understand and change personal behaviors that may cause problems, discover your unique strengths, and learn coping strategies to help you find solutions.
What you should know about 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 throughout 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 negatively.
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.
Finding the right therapist is vital to getting the help you need. You want to find a counselor near you who 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 post-traumatic stress disorder (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, and addiction counseling. 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 techniques 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.
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:
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.
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 OCDs, panic attacks, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (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 anti-anxiety 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.|
While counseling alone is helpful to many people, practical exercises and lifestyle adaptations may help speed recovery. Depending on your issues, you may find other exercises helpful:
Want to learn more about counseling and how it works? Take a look at the sources used in this guide.
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