Frequently Asked Questions about Mental Health Counseling
What is the Difference Between Mental Health Counseling and Psychotherapy?
There is really not much difference anymore. The terms are used interchangeably.
Counselors used to focus more on short-term solutions to more immediate problems, while psychotherapists focused on more long-term chronic psychological and emotional problems.
Now most counselors, psychologists, and clinical social workers provide both short-term and long-term counseling appropriate to each individual’s needs.
What is Counseling Like?
Every counseling session is unique and addresses the individual’s needs and their specific goals. It is common to participate in weekly sessions, where each session lasts around forty-five minutes.
Counseling can be short-term, focusing on a specific issue, or longer-term, addressing more complex issues or ongoing personal growth. There may be times when you are asked to take certain actions outside of the counseling sessions, such as reading a relevant book or keeping records to track certain behaviors.
It is important to process what has been discussed and integrate it into your life between sessions. In order to gain the most from counseling you need to be an active participant, both during and between sessions.
Can Medication be a Substitute for Counseling?
In some cases a combination of medication and counseling is the right course of action. Working with a medical professional (primary care physician or psychiatrist) can help you determine what is best for you.
Studies have shown that the long-term solution to mental and emotional problems and the pain they cause cannot be solved solely by medication. Instead of treating only the symptoms, counseling can help you address many of the causes of distress and behavior patterns that impede progress.
There are many clients who choose not to use medication.
How Long Will it Take?
Every client is different and comes to mental health counseling with a different set of goals and obstacles to those goals. The duration and frequency of counseling, therefore, varies from client to client.
In many cases short-term counseling is appropriate. Some clients are only looking for support during a recent crisis or are adjusting to a challenging life change, like job-loss, divorce, of loss of a loved one. These clients may feel ready to discontinue counseling within six weeks to a few months.
Short-term counseling is also beneficial for clients who enter counseling with a specific goal in mind, such as addressing a specific phobia, controlling anxiety symptoms like panic attacks, or developing specific skill-sets like parenting or social skills.
Many clients remain in mental health counseling as long as they are seeing ongoing progress as measured by feeling better, achieving goals, gaining insight into themselves, and resolving issues.
Long-term counseling tends to be less structured in approach than short-term counseling. Specific goals and behaviors are addressed along the way, but the focus is on working-through more complex concerns such as a trauma-related issues, family of origin issues, or a persistent frustration with ones relationships with others.
In long-term counseling, a client will often discover patterns that they have struggled with repeatedly in various situations throughout their life. In mental health counseling, the counselor and client work together to develop a recognition of these patterns, and to come to understand what internal conflicts and fears have often got in the way of changing these habits. Over time, talking about these patterns in sessions slowly replaces the unconscious need to repeatedly act them out outside of the sessions.
Is Counseling Confidential?
In general, the law protects the confidentiality of all communications between a client and counselor. No information is disclosed without prior written permission from the client. However, there are some exceptions required by law to this rule. Exceptions include:
- Suspected child abuse or dependent adult or elder abuse. The counselor is required to report this to the appropriate authorities immediately.
- If a client is threatening serious bodily harm to another person, the therapist is required to notify the police.
- If a client intends to harm himself or herself. The counselor will make every effort to work with the individual to ensure their safety. However, if an individual does not cooperate, additional measures may need to be taken.