Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
What is counseling?
Counseling and psychotherapy is a focused effort by two people to resolve a multitude of issues. There are many different types of counseling that can be conducted in diverse ways. Individuals who seek counseling from a professional counselor could get individual counseling sessions in a doctor’s office, via online counseling, phone calls, text message, and other ways. Online counseling is gaining in popularity, especially right now, with social distancing in place. When it comes to the field of psychology, counseling comes in many different forms. There are therapists who work with couples, families, or individuals. Some therapists also conduct group therapy. The different types of therapy are immensely varied. You may look to a professional counselor for a common type of therapy, such as CBT, or you may see an art therapist, a music therapist, or someone who practices EMDR, which helps people process trauma.
What should you do if you want to start going to counseling?
When you decide to pursue mental health treatment, there are many steps. First, find a counselor who works for your needs. Then - reach out to that professional counselor to set up an intake. You can find the contact information available to set up counseling sessions on the clinician’s website or another site where therapists list their services. Some counselors specialize in different types of counseling. There are specific counseling services, such as trauma or grief counseling. They may also offer various communication channels, including in person or online counseling. When you want to begin counseling, you can contact your insurance provider, or ask for a referral from your doctor. You can also search the internet for providers that work in your area or online counselors that work remotely. If you are seeking counseling to help you with a specific condition, such as anxiety or PTSD, look for a provider who specializes in it. You can find one who offers counseling services that pertain to your needs. There are many different options for counseling. If the first person you see doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to try again. Sometimes, it takes some time to find the right match, but you can find a professional counselor that is a good fit.
Counseling, psychotherapy and psychiatric counseling may be scary to think about at first. The good thing is that you can see a provider in the way that works for you. The reality is - your comfort matters. There are options like online counseling for people who live in remote areas, or communicate best virtually. Therapy is a place where you can express your feelings. That can be extremely liberating. Consider counseling and psychotherapy if you are struggling with something difficult.
What can you expect during your first session?
During your first session with a professional counselor, they will ask for your history. They want to know why you’re there so that you can collectively plan for the course of your sessions. While it’s helpful to be candid in counseling, it takes time to build trust with your therapist. Most of the time, counselors will not push you if you are not comfortable talking about a topic right away. Also during a first session, the counselor will tell you a little bit about themselves as a professional. They will discuss the types of counseling they offer and go over what you can expect in your next counseling sessions. When it comes to counseling and psychotherapy, remember that the professional you see is working for you. Remember, it may take some time to find the right fit. There’s no shame in switching therapists or counselors if the first one does not work out.
What are some ways that counseling can help you?
Counseling can help you with a variety of mental health issues. It will give you a place to talk about your life without judgment. In counseling, you can discuss mental health, trouble in your relationships, issues with school, or things going on at work. There is a common misconception that there is “something wrong with you” if you see a therapist. The stigma of being in therapy often prevents people from getting help. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a mental health condition such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety. However, you don’t have to have a mental illness to go to counseling. You might seek counseling with your partner for relationship counseling. You may see a family therapist for issues with your loved ones. Whether you’re looking for a counselor online or in your local area, it’s important to ask for help when you need it. Talking to a professional counselor or therapist can be extremely helpful and can enhance your life tremendously. Search the directory of mental health providers on our website and find one that works for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is counseling?
There are many different forms of counseling, but when it comes to mental health counseling or psychology counseling specifically, counseling is a therapeutic process that allows people to talk about and work through any mental, emotional, or life concerns that they have. People can go to counseling to work through relationship issues, familial or domestic issues, learn how to cope with stress, or seek help for a mental health condition. Counseling psychology is proven to be highly effective in helping people with their interpersonal relationships and their emotional and mental well-being. Psychology counseling differs from other types of counseling you might've heard of. In addition to psychology counseling, there's career counseling or guidance counseling, for example. Psychology counseling and counseling psychology focus on human behavior, mental health, interpersonal relationships, and life concerns. The American Psychological Association defines counseling psychology by saying: "Counseling psychology is a general practice and health service provider specialty in professional psychology. It focuses on how people function both personally and in their relationships at all ages. Counseling psychology addresses the emotional, social, work, school and physical health concerns people may have at different stages in their lives, focusing on typical life stresses and more severe issues with which people may struggle as individuals and as a part of families, groups and organizations. Counseling psychologists help people with physical, emotional and mental health issues improve their sense of well‐being, alleviate feelings of distress and resolve crises. They also provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of more severe psychological symptoms."
There are different types of counseling psychology you can seek out. There's individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling or family therapy, and group counseling or group therapy. In couples counseling, you and your partner will go together. The same goes for family counseling, where you will attend therapy as a family unit. There is also group counseling, where you meet with a group for sessions directed and supervised by a licensed professional counselor. Group counseling or group therapy isn't the same as a support group; while support groups are an important part of our communities, they aren't generally conducted by a professional who works in counseling psychology, whereas group counseling is. In individual counseling, you will see a counselor one on one.
What is the difference between therapy and counseling?
Often, counseling takes fewer sessions than therapy or psychotherapy, but they may seem nearly identical when you're on the receiving end, depending on what kind of counseling you attend. Someone who wants to go into the mental health field could major in social work, applied psychology, or another similar subject area and end up working with people for talk therapy.
As a career, therapy and psychology counseling are highly rewarding mental health care service positions. You get to help a wide variety of clients and build your practice around a particular specialty or population that you're interested in, if applicable. It requires a high level of education, studying, and supervised practice to become a licensed professional counselor. A counselor must pass an exam and meet any other standards in their state to practice.
How much does counseling typically cost?
Counseling can cost anywhere from $50 a session to around $200 per session without insurance or other forms of financial aid. Some insurance companies cover most, or even all, of your therapy costs. Online counseling is generally cheaper than traditional face to face counseling is in the absence of insurance, which is why many people decide to go the remote route.
Do I really need counselling?
People benefit from counseling for so many different reasons, and at the very least, anyone can learn new coping skills, receive support, and improve their lives overall through counseling. If someone contemplates whether they need counseling or not, the real question likely is, "what kind of counseling would I benefit from?" Different types of counseling are most applicable to different situations. For example, family therapy would be the most beneficial for someone who is concerned about or struggling with the dynamics of their family unit. Family therapy is also helpful and often vital for a family who wants to learn to support a loved one with a mental health condition, such as substance use disorder or substance abuse and eating disorders. In family therapy, your counseling psychologist will serve as an objective third party and will guide you through communication exercises and other activities in a safe therapeutic environment. Those coping with substance abuse themselves would likely benefit from seeing a substance abuse counselor, which can be found in both inpatient settings and outpatient settings.
What are the types of counseling?
There are many different types of mental health therapy and mental health counseling to choose from. There's individual counseling, group counseling, couples counseling, divorce counseling, premarital counseling, family counseling, and counseling for children, teens, and adolescents. You might attend counseling in person, but you can also go to counseling online. There are also different modalities of counseling or types of counseling that can be used. For example, there's client-centered counseling, CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy or DBT, art therapy, psychodynamic counseling or therapy, emotionally focused therapy or EFT, and more.
The type of counseling you go to will depend on why you're there. For example, if you struggle with substance abuse or substance use disorder, you'll likely benefit from seeing a substance abuse counselor the most. The same is true for other conditions, such as PTSD, OCD, eating disorders, and so on. If you have PTSD, you'll likely want to see someone who works with trauma or who is trauma-informed, and if you have an eating disorder, you'll want to see someone who specializes in eating disorders. If the current counselor, therapist, or psychologist you're seeing isn't a good fit, you can always switch.
How do I choose a counselor?
Here are some different ways you can go about finding a counselor:
- Ask your doctor for a referral
- Call your insurance company or look at their website to see the mental health services or mental health care providers they cover
- Search the internet for a provider in your area
- Get paired with a provider through an online therapy website like ReGain
You can also visit the American Psychological Association website to use their "find a provider" tool. In addition to the American Psychological Association, various other websites have a tool that can help you find a counselor near you. When you look for a counselor, it's important to consider the different types of counseling so that you make sure you get someone who suits your needs. Again, if you have a mental illness such as depression anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse (substance use disorder) or PTSD, you'll likely benefit the most from seeing someone who specializes in that area. This will influence the way you choose a provider more than almost anything else.
Do I need counselling or psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy may be your best bet if you have a mental illness and want to treat a vast group of matters related to your mental health. However, both types of mental health services are effective and are backed by extensive research. If you'd like a short term form of care, counseling may be the way to go. Counseling and therapy are both highly individual processes, and both can be attended by those with a mental illness or another life concern. You may need to try multiple things before you find out what works for you, and there's much to be gained from both counseling and psychotherapy, so some people may attend both at different points in their lives.
How do you know you need therapy?
You might realize that you need therapy if life feels overwhelming for any reason. Additionally, you might know that you need therapy if you feel stuck, either in a particular situation or with regard to learning how to navigate specific circumstances or battles. It's hard to look at your life and realize that you don't know what to do about something that's going on, whether that's internally or externally, and seeking mental health services or mental health care services can help. You don't have to have a mental illness to go to therapy; it is only one possible reason people seek out mental health services.
If cost is what's holding you back, there are options for free counseling and low-cost counseling. You can get free counseling if your insurance company covers the cost in full, if you receive a voucher, or if you get counseling through your church or school. To get therapy or counseling for a lower cost than you would without insurance, find someone who takes your insurance, look for someone with sliding scale rates, or seek counseling through an online counseling website.
In addition to seeing counseling psychologists or a professional psychology counselor, someone might attend a support group. A support group is not a replacement for therapy with licensed counseling psychologists or professional psychology counselors and therapists. Rather, a support group is there for you to get support from peers who understand what you're going through. To find a support group, you can search the web or ask a provider in your area.
Why is counseling so expensive?
One of the main reasons counseling is so expensive is the cost that a counselor or therapist must pay for their office space if they have a private practice. Anyone who rents a space for their work must account for the cost of that space and any other affiliated fees. Part of why online therapy websites are more affordable, without compromising quality, is that counselors don't have to pay for an office space or office space related expenses.
What are the benefits of counseling?
The benefits of mental health counseling or counseling psychology include:
- Coping skills for stress management, anxiety, or other concerns
- Improvement in symptoms of mental illness
- Improvement in interpersonal relationships or familial relationships
- Improved communication skills
- Increased self-acceptance and confidence in one's self or abilities
- Improved emotional regulation
- Improved conflict resolution
- The development of anger management skills
- Healthier and more adoptive self talk
- Confidence in decision making
- The ability to change thought patterns and work through maladaptive thoughts or behaviors
Counselors are also dedicated to helping people who have suffered from domestic violence, abuse, and other traumas or concerns.
What qualities make a good counselor?
A good counselor should be educated on the topics they work with or treat and must be empathetic, understanding, and open to learning from the clients. Every client they see will be different, and good counseling psychologists know that they must recognize that everyone they see is unique. Additionally, since there are so many types of counseling and types of counselors, a good counselor will be able to specify what they provide counseling for and know to refer you out to another provider. For example, if you seek therapy for the specific purpose of treating an eating disorder and the first counselor you see doesn't work with eating disorders, they should tell you that upfront. Suppose you request to be referred out or to get names of other counselors, counseling psychologists, or therapists who do work with eating disorders. In that case, a good counselor should adhere to that request readily and amicably. Mental health professionals such as therapists are actually trained on how to have conversations about referring people to other providers. They're also trained to work out what to say if someone says that they aren't a good therapeutic fit as a counselor, so they will never take it personally. A good counselor wants to help you and wants to know that you will get what you need even if it's through another counselor. Additionally, an understanding of social justice is helpful for therapists because it allows them to understand world issues and how they may impact their clients. There are even some therapists who specialize in working with specific groups, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community, which you can look for if it will make someone a better match for you as a counselor. A good counselor is somewhat subjective in the sense that different types of counseling and different types of counselors or counseling psychologists work for different people. The best counselor for you will depend on your personality type, the personality type of the counselor, type of counseling you are seeking, and so on.
What are the steps of counselling?
The steps of counseling vary somewhat for different types of counseling and different scenarios. However, the first step that nearly any counseling scenario includes is an intake appointment. During your intake appointment, you'll talk to your counselor about what you're there for. The next step will generally be establishing goals or elaborating further on what you want to accomplish in counseling. Then, you will start the real bulk of the process. Every so often, you'll refer back to your goals and see the progress you made. You might adjust your goals after this step or talk about what you'd like to work on moving forward. You don't need to rush the therapeutic process, but you can leave counseling at any time. You can also return to counseling at any time or restart counseling at any time without shame. Many individuals seek counseling at various points in their lives, and it's life-changing for countless people, so don't be afraid to reach out and get started.