Finding A Mental Health Counselor To Meet Your Needs
Updated November 15, 2019
Reviewer Dawn Brown
Therapy is no longer the shameful word it once was. While seeing a therapist used to be mocked, derided, or set aside as a crutch only for the rich and privileged, therapists are increasingly common in the lives of people of all ages, backgrounds, and degrees of privilege and the profession has certainly risen to the occasion. There are counselors trained to treat and support a wide variety of needs and conditions, and there is likely to be a therapist able to help you with any issues you might have.
What Is A Counselor?
A counselor is a mental health professional who is trained and licensed to work with people seeking mental health assistance. There are many different types of counselors, but the most common designation is that of a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). These two designations are typically used interchangeably, though some state licensing boards will have separate qualifications for each.
A counselor, either an LPC or LMHC, practices counseling, which his essentially a form of guidance that allows patients to improve their mindsets, habits, and outlooks, to mitigate feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, or anger. Counselors can treat a host of disorders and general symptoms and are qualified to intervene in mood disorders (depressive disorders, for instance), personality disorders (such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder), and addictive disorders (such as alcohol dependence). While it may seem as though these issues all require a psychiatrist or psychologists, many counselors successfully treat these concerns through talk therapy, by walking through the issues at hand, reframing them, and teaching their clients how to adopt new patterns of thinking.
Are Counselors And Therapists The Same?
No. The term "counselor" usually refers specifically to someone trained to work with mental health. The term "therapist," conversely, is broader in its scope, and usually refers to people with more hands-on approaches and training methods. A counselor, for instance, deals exclusively in treating through talk therapy and related methods. A therapist, however, might include a speech therapist, who teaches individuals how to speak or how to formulate sentences properly. A therapist can also be a physical therapist who delivers or teaches their clients stretching, strength exercises, and other physical tasks designed to build strength and improve mobility. A therapist can also refer to an Applied Behavior Analyst, whose job it is to encourage age-appropriate life skills for individuals on the Autism spectrum.
Although the terms "counselor" and "therapist" might at first seem synonymous, they both cover a different range of specialties and offerings and do not necessarily refer to the same type of treatment. When they are both used in a mental health context, the two titles are similarly estranged; a counselor usually operates on a shorter-term, treating short-term issues or illnesses, while a therapist might operate on a larger timeline, and usually deals with more substantial or challenging mental health concerns.
When Should You See A Counselor?
Virtually everyone can benefit from seeing a counselor. It is common for people to visit a doctor once a year for a physical check-up. The doctor might run a blood panel to determine your blood pressure, blood sugar, and hormone levels, and may listen to your heart and lungs to search for any abnormalities. At this check-up, your doctor might also look into your eyes and ears and check your lymph nodes for any signs of swelling. Checkups aren't designed to treat a disease; they are designed to make sure everything is as it should be simple. Why shouldn't the same be said of your mental health?
You do not have to have a looming psychological threat or disorder to enlist the help of a counselor and benefit from some form of counseling. Counselors can function in the same way as your doctor performing a check-up and can help identify any unhealthy thought patterns, habits, or behaviors you have adopted, and give you strategies to change them to improve your mental health and, consequently, your life.
You can also see a counselor as a form of treatment. Counselors are qualified to treat countless disorders and conditions and can provide you with a comprehensive treatment plan to ease the symptoms of disorders such as anxiety and depressive disorders, or personality disorders.
If you feel as though you need an extra push to chase after your goals, or an unbiased ear to talk to, or even just someone to bounce ideas off of, you could also benefit from speaking to a counselor. Although counselors might have reputations as being solely for more serious issues, counselors are often best utilized as preventative measures against the effects of serious mental conditions.
Is There Ever a Time You Shouldn't See A Counselor?
Although most people can benefit from seeing a counselor, there may be some needs that exceed the capability of a counselor, and that requires a larger scope of practice. Someone who needs to change or begin an antidepressant regimen, for instance, will need to seek the help of a psychiatrist to receive the proper diagnosis and pharmaceutical intervention; counselors are not licensed to practice medicine in this way.
More severe mental health conditions, too, might require the intervention of a psychologist or psychiatrist, as these professions focus more on long-term, substantial therapy, and can provide different therapy modalities that focus on cognitive or neurological functioning, rather than just behavior and thought modification. Trauma therapy, such as EMDR, might be necessary for someone who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-and trauma therapy does not fall under the purview of a counselor.
Counselors can refer you out to other specialists who may be able to help you with more substantial needs. If you begin meeting with a counselor, then discover your needs exceed what the counselor is able to offer, you can always let your counselor know that you need more help, and he or she can refer you to a general practice doctor, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, in order to create a comprehensive, complete treatment plan.
Are All Counseling The Same?
No! There are many different types of counseling, and many different styles or backgrounds counselors can use to target your specific wants and needs. Some counselors offer services that incorporate religious beliefs, for instance, while others can incorporate philosophical practices. Still, others might use complementary treatment methods, such as lifestyle changes, meditation, and yoga, to help treat the issues you bring to the table. Not all counselors are the same, nor are all counseling modalities identical. Instead, countless personalities, preferences, and perspectives can come into play, to create a truly unique counseling experience for everyone who enlists the help of mental health professional.
Finding A Mental Health Counselor To Meet Your Needs
Choosing a mental health professional requires taking several things into account, including your wants, your needs, your preferences, and your mental state. Someone who is searching for general insight, improved self-esteem, and improved life skills can benefit immensely from enlisting the help of a counselor, as these professionals are skilled at imparting unique perspectives, and healthier ways of looking at your situation and the world around you.
If, however, you feel that you have a mental health condition that might exceed the limitations placed on treatment by talk therapy alone, you might need to go beyond seeking a counselor, and seek an actual medical professional who can help you navigate a deeper form of therapy and, possibly, pharmaceutical intervention. Counselors can, in these cases, function as complementary treatment options, and may work alongside a psychiatrist or psychologist to deliver mental health treatment.
If you want to work through some life changes or significant upheavals in your usual beliefs or routines, and you want the perspective of someone who is of a similar faith or belief system, you can usually find counselors who offer faith-based counseling. There is also other forms of counseling that incorporate your unique background and personal history, using your interests to help you see new perspectives and ideas.
One of the most wonderful aspects of counseling, though, is that a counseling relationship is not a lifelong commitment. If you engage in a counseling session and find that you and your counselor do not click, you need more help than your counselor can provide, or want to try a different counseling perspective, you can always ask your counselor for an outside referral, or request that they point you in the direction of someone who might be a better fit.
One of the simplest ways to take part in therapy services is through online counseling, which can provide the same high-quality therapy as a brick-and-mortar counseling office, with greater flexibility and similar payment options. The professionals available at ReGain.Us encompass psychiatrists, psychologists, LPCs, and LMHCs, so there is likely to be at least one mental health professional able to suit your unique wants and needs.
Ultimately, finding a counselor to meet your needs comes down to a matter of knowing yourself, knowing your strengths, and knowing your weaknesses. Fortunately, even if you aren't quite there yet, a counselor can help you get there and can set you on the road to mental health and wellness.