There are plenty of depictions in movies, on TV, or from Karen down the street — some good, some bad, some funny . . . but more often than not, these depictions don’t give a clear view of the counseling process.
You may have also wondered, what is a counselor? Is it the same as a psychologist or therapist? Well, let’s answer some of these questions. In this article I’ll give a short overview of what you can expect from an appointment with a licensed professional, as well as my own spin on what you can expect from me.
Who Goes to Individual Counseling?
First, let’s start by defining who attends individual counseling. This one is easy . . . anyone and everyone. I have seen people from 8 to 84, people with mental health concerns to people who want to explore existential themes in their lives.
There is no qualifying litmus test for anyone looking to attend individual counseling. It feels odd having to write that, but the truth is that for generations therapy has been stigmatized as something you do when something is wrong with you. However, the Millennials and Gen Z’s are making leaps and bounds to shine a light on the importance of keeping the mind strong and healthy in preventative and ongoing ways, such as going to individual counseling.
The First Session
So you find yourself sitting in the waiting room looking at the clock and wondering what will happen when the counselor opens their door and asks you to follow them into the room. Well, let’s break it down.
The logistics of the first session are built around finding out as much information as the counselor can about your background, such as family history, mental health concerns, goals, etc. Some counselors may want you to come for 90 minutes during the first session so that they have ample time to gather the data.
Another thing the counselor is doing is trying to build rapport. The bottom line is that your counselor can have all the tools in the world to help you, but if they cannot make a human connection with you beyond the scope of psychological mumbo jumbo, then therapy normally doesn’t work.
Speaking as a professional and as someone who has attended counseling, the relationship you have with your therapist is just as important as the tools and skills they are helping you learn and implement.
The next steps in the therapy process can look very different depending on the type of therapist you are seeing and the nature of the issues you want to work through. For instance, if you are seeking counseling for depressive symptoms, you may spend the first few sessions discussing the duration, acuteness, and timeline of your symptoms.
This is done in order to help build a foundation of understanding on the problem to help foster a treatment plan that is best tailored to bringing current and sustainable relief.
Modality or Approach
Now this is where it gets tricky. Depending on the therapist you choose, they will have a modality or approach they use professionally as their therapeutic approach.
For instance, many counselors work from a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Model. This approach spotlights the thoughts and behaviors associated with problem areas and focuses on symptom relief.
If you find yourself attending counseling sessions with a CBT therapist, you should not expect to spend a lot of time focusing on your childhood or exploring existential themes in your life. For just that reason, people either seek out or avoid this type of therapy. With that being said, many therapists use many different models during every session and the great ones will tailor their approach to best serve your needs.
Types of Counselors
The next thing I want to talk about is the kind of counselor you decide to see. During your search, you may have come across a plethora of different letters following someone’s name. For instance, LMHCA, LICSW, LMFT, PsyD, or MD.
The five I have listed are the most common in the state of Washington, but each describe a different academic education and philosophy on therapy. A small book could be written on the differences and similarities across the professionals, but this is going to be a quick look.
LMHCs are Licensed Mental Health Counselors and they have received a Master’s degree in counseling that focuses primarily on psychotherapy. LICSWs are social workers, and LMFTs are Marriage and Family Therapists, both of whom also received Master’s degrees.
PsyDs and PhDs are both doctoral degrees and either could be listed as psychologists. At the top of the mountain we have the M.D. (psychiatrists), although there are not many who work primarily as therapists.
And yes, to make it even more confusing, they all can call themselves therapists, and the word can be used interchangeably throughout each profession. I strongly suggest that anyone considering seeing a therapist take a trip to their Google search bar and decide which professional will suit you and your needs best.
What I Offer in Individual Counseling
The last thing I want to talk about is what I know best, and that’s what you could expect if you find yourself in my waiting room. I see a vast range of individuals and couples on a weekly basis for a number of different reasons.
Each session can look enormously different from the next. But above all else, I try to meet my clients where they are and give them as much control with direction, pace, and autonomy as possible. My goal is that you have the freedom to go down any path you choose.
It’s my job to work closely with you to help shed light or give simple and applicable collaborative advice when needed. If you walk into my office and want explore childhood events that you feel are shaping your current perceptions of the world, then that’s the path we will follow.
Conversely, if you want to focus on gaining tools to cope with current issues to alleviate stress and anxiety, we will work to find sustainable and practical solutions. I have found that no matter what the issue or concern is that you are hoping to remedy, the process is normally the same in my practice.
I work with a two-tier approach that gives you the tools to reduce current symptoms while also going down memory lane chapters in your life to look for the why’s and how’s. One session builds on the next. With every session I hope that we dig a little deeper and find more answers that culminate into you gaining more understanding, healing, and satisfaction in your life.
No matter what kind of therapist you decide on seeing or the therapeutic approach they use for individual counseling, the most important factor is going to be the human connection you have with them. It has been said that once you find a good therapist, you don’t let them go. The same goes with friends, co-workers, pediatricians, or your favorite checker at the grocery store.
I encourage you wholeheartedly to focus your energy on the connection rather than the credential. And I wish you good luck in finding that perfect fit who will help open the doors to finding peace and understanding.
“Thinking”, Courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Old Books”, Courtesy of Erol Ahmed, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Signpost”, Courtesy of Emeric Deroubaix, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tree-lined Lane”, Courtesy of Simon Rae, Unsplash.com, CC0 License