Many people have the misconception that a counselor is only for people with serious mental health issues — and if nothing is absolutely “broken,” then counseling isn’t for them. This simply isn’t true, however — you don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health issue to benefit from seeing a counselor. Many people seek help for everyday concerns: relationship problems, job stress, self-doubt, or help achieving their goals. Others turn to counselors during difficult times, such as for grief after a death or divorce.
While seeking professional help from a counselor is obviously valuable in intense, overwhelming, or complicated situations, it’s also an incredibly beneficial tool to help build positive mental health habits — even if nothing is “wrong.” Having this preventative care mindset can help you keep your emotional well-being top of mind and process your concerns before they become problems.
Counselor vs. Therapist
Although the terms counselor and therapist are often used interchangeably, as both professions are mental health practitioners, there is a difference. In general, counselors are more limited in their scope of work. Although in some states, counselors receive additional training so they can administer psychometric assessments, most are limited to performing only certain types of tests, under certain conditions. Therapists, on the other hand, have a broader scope of work and broader range of potential titles. Therapists can be licensed professional counselors, psychoanalysts, marriage counselors, social workers, and life coaches.
As a rule of thumb, “counselor” is an umbrella term for both licensed clinicians with advanced degrees and those offering other forms of counseling (such as a religious leader who provides counseling); “therapist” is a broader umbrella term for professionals who are trained — and licensed — to provide a variety of treatments in more specific and regulated ways.
Finding the Right Counselor for You
When seeking a counselor or therapist, it is important to find a practitioner who will best suit your goals and needs.
Before committing to a counselor, you will likely ask him or her questions regarding availability, cost, specialization, as well as about his or her experience. In addition to these queries, consider asking:
- What is your approach to clients?
Some counselors are very hands-on and active during appointments, challenging you and helping to reframe things, while others take a more passive role. It’s important to know what’s best for you and find a counselor that uses a style that feels comfortable for you.
- What are your areas of expertise?
While you don’t need a reason to see a counselor, you likely have some topics already on your mind. Ensure the professional you’re speaking with specializes in these areas. Examples include issues specific to LGBTQ individuals, veterans, minority groups, or couples.
- How does the type of treatment you offer work?
If you’re new to the mental health space, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into. Ask for a run-down of what sessions typically look like, what form of therapy they typically practice (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, etc), and how progress will be measured.
3 Ways Counseling Can Enhance Your Life
The thought of seeing a mental health counselor may bring up images of you laying on a leather couch, reopening childhood wounds and pouring your heart out to a stranger sitting across from you — one who says little but takes a lot of notes. Often, however, a counselor can simply be someone who listens to you describe what’s going on and helps you reframe problematic ways of thinking. You likely have your own go-to coping mechanisms for when problems arise, but don’t dismiss professional counseling – getting your thoughts out in the open benefits your wellbeing a number of ways, and having extra support to handle life’s challenges can help keep you from feeling.
Here are three more ways counseling can benefit your life:
1. Objective accountability for your goals
Whether you want to mend your relationship with a family member or finally start your own business, talking to a counselor can help you overcome the mental blocks that have kept you from meeting these goals. That person can also help break down something that seems impossible into easier to meet goals and keep you accountable throughout the process.
2. It can help you help others
By talking through your own experiences and emotions, you can also help those around you build a better vocabulary of their feelings, too. Your friends, loved ones, and coworkers will notice that you’re more open to discussing your challenges and emotions and this behavior will encourage them to express themselves more freely. This is an especially important skill to model and teach to children.
3. You will experience better physical health
Poor mental health can affect your body’s ability to make healthy decisions and fight off chronic diseases – which can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. So, while historically there has been a clear distinction between mind and body, we’re increasingly discovering that the two are interwoven, and when it comes to wellbeing, should integrated. Being good to your mind is also good for your body.
While counseling does take time, if you give it a chance it can help you develop better coping skills, stronger relationships, and a better sense of yourself. You can begin your online counseling experience now with Talkspace.