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Answers to Common Questions About Counseling

When should you seek counseling?

From childhood through late adulthood, there are certain times when we may need help addressing problems and issues that cause us emotional distress or make us feel overwhelmed. When you are experiencing these types of difficulties, you may benefit from the assistance of an experienced, trained professional. Professional counselors offer the caring, expert assistance that we often need during these stressful times. A counselor can help you identify your problems and assist you in finding the best ways to cope with the situation by changing behaviors that contribute to the problem or by finding constructive ways to deal with a situation that is beyond your personal control. Professional counselors offer help in addressing many situations that cause emotional stress, including, but not limited to:

    anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems and disorders
    family and relationship issues
    substance abuse and other addictions
    sexual abuse and domestic violence
    eating disorders
    career change and job stress
    social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness
    adopting to life transitions
    the death of a loved one

"Good indicators of when you should seek counseling are when you're having difficulties at work, your ability to concentrate is diminished or when your level of pain becomes uncomfortable," says Dr. Gail Robinson, past president of the American Counseling Association. "However, you don't want to wait until the pain becomes unbearable or you're at the end of your rope."

"If someone is questioning if they should go into counseling that is probably the best indicator that they should," says Dr. William King, a mental health counselor in private practice in Indianapolis, Indiana. "You should trust your instincts."

Joyce Breasure, past president of the American Counseling Association and a professional counselor who has been in private practice for more than 20 years, recommends counseling when you:
    Spend 5 out of 7 days feeling unhappy
    Regularly cannot sleep at night
    Are taking care of a parent or a child and the idea             crosses your mind that you may want to hit that person
    Place an elder in a nursing home or in alternative care
    Have lost someone or something (such as a job)
    Have a chronic or acute medical illness
    Can no longer prioritize what is most important in your life
    Feel that you can no longer manage your stress

"If you're not playing some, working some, and learning some, then you're out of balance. There's a potential for some problems," Breasure says.

Robinson points out you don't have to be "sick" to benefit from counseling. "Counseling is more than a treatment of mental illness," she says. "Some difficult issues we face in life are part of normal development. Sometimes it's helpful to see what you're going through is quite normal."

What is professional counseling?

Professional counselors work with individuals, families, groups and organizations. Counseling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client. Professional counselors help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil; seek to improve communication and coping skills; strengthen self-esteem; and promote behavior change and optimal mental health. Through counseling you examine the behaviors, thoughts and feelings that are causing difficulties in your life. You learn effective ways to deal with your problems by building upon personal strengths. A professional counselor will encourage your personal growth and development in ways that foster your interest and welfare.

Who are Certified Counselors?

Certified professional counselors provide quality mental health and substance abuse care to millions of North Americans. Professional counselors have a master's or doctoral degree in counseling or a related field which included an internship and coursework in human behavior and development, effective counseling strategies, ethical practice, and other core knowledge areas. Certification typically requires a master's or doctoral degree, two to three years of supervised clinical experience, and the passage of an examination. Participation in continuing education is required for registration maintenance.

Certified counselors adhere to a code of ethics that protects the confidentiality of the counseling relationship; prohibits discrimination and requires understanding of and respect for diverse cultural backgrounds; and mandates that professional counselors put the needs and welfare of clients before all others in their practice.

How much does counseling cost?

The cost of counseling can vary greatly depending on your geographic location and whether counseling is being provided by a community mental health center or similar agency or by a counselor in private practice. In general, the average paid fee for individual counseling sessions is about $65. Fees for group counseling are generally lower, about $35 per group session. For clients with health insurance that does not cover mental health care and others who cannot afford the counselor's standard fee, some counselors will lower their fee on a sliding scale basis or will work out a payment plan. Your counselor should explain to you, prior to beginning the counseling relationship, all financial arrangements related to professional services.

How long does counseling take?

Ideally, counseling is terminated when the problem that you pursued counseling for becomes more manageable or is resolved. However, some insurance companies and managed care plans may limit the number of sessions for which they pay. You should check with your health plan to find out more about any limitations in your coverage. During the first few counseling sessions your counselor should also discuss the length of treatment that may be needed to achieve your goals.

Is everything I say confidential?

All members of the International Administration of Clinical Counselors subscribe to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice which require counselors to protect the confidentiality of their communications with clients.  As a client, you are guaranteed the protection of confidentiality within the boundaries of the client/counselor relationship. Any disclosure will be made with your full written, informed consent and will be limited to a specific period of time. The only limitations to confidentiality occur when a counselor feels that there is clear and imminent danger to you or to others, or when legal requirements demand that confidential information be disclosed such as a court case. Whenever possible, you will be informed before confidential information is revealed.

How do I find a counselor?

There are many different ways to locate a professional counselor. Some common ways include:
    The yellow pages listed under counselor, marriage and family counselors, therapist or mental health
    Referral from your physician
    Recommendations from trusted friends
    Crisis hotlines
    Community mental health agencies
    Local United Way information & referral service
    Hospitals
    Child protective services
    Referral from clergy
    Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Once you have found a counselor you are interested in seeing, you should ask several important questions, such as:
Are you a certified counselor? What is your educational background? How long have you been practicing counseling?
What are your areas of specialization (such as family therapy, women's issues, substance abuse counseling, etc.)?
What are your fees? How is billing handled? Do you offer a sliding fee scale or a payment plan if I do not have insurance for mental health services? How can you help me with my problems? What type of treatment do you use? How long do you think counseling will last?

Some of these questions may be addressed during your initial phone conversation with the counselor and others may be more appropriately discussed in your first face-to-face meeting.

After you have had these questions answered by the counselor to your satisfaction, consider how comfortable you feel with the individual, since you will be working closely together during your counseling sessions. It is difficult to open up and share your problems with a stranger and you may feel awkward or anxious during your initial sessions. But it is also important that you have a "chemistry" or rapport with the counselor. Counselors have different styles, personalities, and approaches. Take time to evaluate how you feel interacting with the counselor and whether you believe that the two of you can work effectively together. If you do not feel at ease with a certain counselor, do not get discouraged. Instead, look for a different individual with whom you would feel more comfortable working with.

Together you and your counselor will set goals, work toward achieving them, and assess how well you are actually meeting them. Counseling can help you maximize your potential and make positive changes in your life. Finally, remember that counseling may be hard work at times but change and progress do happen. A professional counselor can provide the help and support to help you master the challenges of life.



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