Counseling has long been perceived as a mysterious act involving the seemingly “crazy” individual & a bizarre clinician. Even today, many individuals have strong reservations about therapy. Yet, if I asked one hundred random individuals, what they think counseling is, responses would likely be mixed. The mixture would include: appreciation, respect, disassifcation, & fear. For those who have not participated in therapy, responses would likely include: “when someone analyzes your entire life story, including dreams;” “it’s a string of experiments resulting in electroconvulsive therapy;” or “it’s just like what you see in the movies. ”
It’s no wonder that many clients admit that they have never tried counseling for a number of reasons. Those reasons typically include:“I’m not crazy;” “I’ve never needed outside help;” “Me & my family handle our stuff as a family;” or “I just couldn’t bare it if my co-workers or friends found out that I was coming to a counselor!” But when do you finally say “enough” and give therapy a try, despite fears or concerns? How about when you’ve tried all the advice received and nothing worked? What if you continually struggle with the stress of separation, loss, or another traumatic experience? If any of the previously-mentioned situations sound familiar &/or you want to educate yourself, continue reading.
What Is Counseling Exactly?
Merriam-Webster defines counseling as: “professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, & testing interests & aptitudes.” Likewise, the American Counseling Association (ACA) asserts, “Professional counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, & groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, & career goals.” ACA elaborates further by stating: “Counseling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and the client.” Finally, many view “counseling” as analogous with “therapy;” therefore “therapy” and “counseling” will be used interchangeably throughout this blog.
While the previously-mentioned descriptions are informative, let me provide more clarity & explain further. At the heart of counseling is a professional & collaborative relationship, which is often referred to as the therapeutic relationship. This relationship revolves around the client receiving guidance, instruction, &/or perspective as well as empowerment to make change. The relationship is maintained by authenticity, honesty, respect, open communication, & trust demonstrated by both the client & the clinician.
Professional counseling can come in different forms, address a variety of issues/concerns, & can incorporate a wide-array of interventions. In essence, no two counseling experiences are identical. Thus, the experience you have will be different than the one your partner, child, or parent has. Likewise, the experience you had as a child, when you were in college, or even two years ago will be different than any experiences you have now or in the future.
WhAt happens WHEN YOU enter into counseling?
When a client enters into therapy, with the exception of group therapy, the professional will begin the process by gathering historical information & possibly using inventories to gain more clarity about presenting issues. Treatment goals will then be co-created. Once goals are agreed upon, the clinician will incorporate a variety of techniques & interventions to help the client progress. Simultaneously, the clinician may use scales &/or measures to track change. As treatment progresses, the client & clinician will address any barriers to treatment, discuss progress, & review goals, while working towards successful discharge. Successful discharge, which marks the end of treatment, will occur once all treatment goals are achieved.
What are the Different Modes of Counseling?
Counseling can be offered & received in a couple of different ways: individual; family; couples; &/or group. Each mode is unique; each has its own advantages & disadvantages. Typically, availability & resources are what limit the modes of therapy that you can receive at any given time.
Individual Counseling revolves around the individual seeking services. As such, this type of therapy is tailor-made. It tends to focus on personal issues. Issues that are typically addressed in individual therapy sessions include:
- Anger Mngmt.;
- Assertive Communication;
- Behavorial &/or Emotional Issues;
- Career Exploration;
- Disordered Eating;
- Relationship Issues;
- Parenting Skills;
- Stress Mngmt.;
- Work &/or School Related Issues;
Individual therapy can be provided to adults, adolescents, & children. However, the techniques used with adults is not the same as those that would be used for children or adolescents. Regardless of whom is receiving services, clients should seek-out providers that incorporate evidence-based interventions in order to increase satisfaction & efficacy. Individual counseling can range in length from a couple of sessions (i.e. 1-5) to several months or years in services, as dependent upon a number of factors.
Family Counseling is centered on the family unit. As such, family counseling can focus on strengthening specific parts of the unit or improving the functioning of the entire unit. Family counseling tends to address the following issues:
- Addressing Family Secrets;
- Adj. to Loss or Addition to Family Unit;
- Boundary Formation;
- Communication Difficulties;
- Conflict Resolution;
- Confronting Family Truths;
- Improving Closeness;
- Increasing Trust, Respect, &/or Honesty;
- Parent-Child Relationship Difficulties;
- Setting & Maintaining Roles/Expectations;
- Sibling Relationship Difficulties;
Family counseling can be provided to as many or as few family members as deemed realistic, appropriate, & beneficial. Family counseling can range in length from a few sessions (1-3) to several sessions.
Individual + Family Counseling?
Individual & family counseling are the two modes that most individuals think of. This can be explained by the fact that these services are more readily available than group therapy. If more than one type of treatment is available, then your clinician will likely explore your interest in receiving multiple modes of treatment simultaneously. Typically, those receiving individual treatment can further benefit from other types of counseling. Thus, individual counseling + family counseling = typical recipe for resolving individual concerns while simultaneously addressing issues within the family unit.
Couples Counseling revolves around the partnership between two individuals. In this type of counseling, the focus of treatment shifts from one or both individuals to the actual relationship or partnership between those two individuals. Above all, the “identified client” is not “you” or “me” but “us.” Issues typically addressed in couples counseling include:
- Adapting to Change;
- Addressing Infidelity;
- Conflict Resolution;
- Creating & Maintaining Healthy Boundaries;
- Improving Intimacy;
- Increasing Open & Honest communication;
- Navigating Life Challenges Together;
- Nurturing Each Other;
- Restoring Trust;
- Working Effectively as a Team;
Couples counseling can be short-term or long-term, as dependent on the number & severity of issues to address.
Group Counseling is when two or more individuals gain support, perspective, & validation from one another while addressing a specific issue &/or strengthening skills. This mode of treatment can come in a couple of different formats. Group therapy tends to be less invasive than other forms of counseling. Group counseling tends to focus on specific issues/topics, such as:
- Anger Mngmt.;
- Domestic Violence;
- Grief & Loss;
- Improving Wellness;
- Increasing Coping Skills;
- Skill Devel.;
- Stress Mgmt.;
Group therapy can be available to almost any age group, but it is limited by investment. The length of group counseling is dependent upon the format & structure of the specific group.
Are All Modes of Treatment Available?
A large number of providers are unable to provide individual, family, couples, & group counseling. With that said, you, as a consumer, should research which agencies or practices provide the modes of therapy you are most interested in. If you do select a provider that is unable to provide the type of treatment you are most interested in, ask your provider for a referral. You don’t have to settle!
Are There Any Benefits to Receiving Professional Counseling?
Counseling, much like anything else, is what you put into it. If you enter into counseling, with the mindset that you will get nothing out of it, chances are that you will not receive much benefit from it. In contrast, if you enter into counseling open-mindedly & with a willingness to try new things, then there is no limit to the benefits you will receive. Benefits from therapeutic services can include:
- Higher Performance at Work or School;
- Improved Ability to Manage Symptoms;
- Cope More Effectively W/ Stress;
- Improved Relationships W/ Others;
- Increased Satisfaction W/ Life;
- Less Distress &/or Fewer Concerns;
- More Confidence, Self-Awareness, & Self-Esteem;
- Skill Enhancement;
This is not an exhaustive list. However, it does highlight positive things that can result from therapeutic services. It is important to remember that entering into & engaging in counseling comes with risks. Therapeutic risks are tied to the requirements of each new client.
Risks &/or requirements of a client include:
- Be Honest W/ Self;
- Believe That Change Is Possible;
- Consistent Attendance;
- Demonstrate Patience W/ Self;
- Invest In The Process;
- Persevere Despite Setbacks;
- Recognize & Celebrate Changes W/in Self or Circumstance;
- Realize That Change Takes Time;
- Take Ownership of Your Own Behavior;
- Willingness To Try Different Ways of Behaving &/or Responding;
Trusting yourself is possibly the most threatening yet equally rewarding!
Who Participates in Counseling, Anyways?
Counseling is available to nearly everyone including our youngest members of society to those more advanced in years. Therapeutic services are now offered around the globe. As such, it is more convenient & accessible to everyone. Therefore, the diversity of clients & presenting issues is increasing. Finally, there is no one-size-fit for clients these days!
Professional counselors are just as diverse as clients. In fact, each counselor comes with unique experiences, skills, & areas of speciality. This is what sets each clinician apart. With that in mind, I encourage you to seek out the right fit for you so that you too may discover the benefits of treatment. You never know, it may be a life-altering experience!
If you have never received professional counseling & are still skeptical, I encourage you to contact me at Connections Family Counseling. If you participated in therapy before & are willing to reinvest again, contact me at: (217)231-1413 to see if I’m a good fit for you. Finally, if you have any questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you.
Brandy Kruse, MA, LCPC, is a licensed clinical professional counselor at Connections Family Counselingin Quincy, IL. She specializes in working with youth, parents, & families. She is accepting new clients at this time. You can reach her at: 217-231-1413 ext. 803.