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.
What is the Difference Between Counselors, Clinical Social Workers, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists?
A Licensed Counselor typically has a Master’s Degree and has been trained to provide counseling services to individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, and career goals.
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker typically has a Master’s Degree and has been trained in psychotherapy and helps individuals, families, and groups deal with a variety of mental health and daily living problems to improve overall functioning.
A Licensed Psychologist typically has a Doctorate Degree (PhD or PsyD) and has been trained to conduct research, perform testing and evaluation, and treat a full range of emotional and psychological challenges. Psychologists receive more education and training in research, testing, psychology, and mental health services than other mental health professionals.
A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in mental health care and can prescribe medications. (Family doctors often prescribe medications for mental health concerns, but do not have specialized training or background in treatment mental disorders.) Most psychiatrists focus on prescribing medication; a few also do psychotherapy.
Is Mental Health Counseling Right for Me?
Seeking out counseling is an individual decision. There are many reasons people decide to come to counseling.
Sometimes it is to deal with long-standing psychological issues, or problems with anxiety or depression. Other times it is in response to unexpected changes in one’s life such as a divorce, job changes, death of a loved one, or another major transition.
Working with a counselor can help provide insight, support, and new strategies for all types of challenges.
At some point, everyone faces difficult situations. Even though you may have navigated through other difficulties on your own in the past, seeking professional help may ease your process this time.
Counseling provides long-lasting benefits and support by giving you the tools you need to avoid triggers, change destructive patterns, and overcome many of the challenges you may face.
How Can Mental Health Counseling Help Me?
Counseling provides numerous benefits. Counselors can provide support, problem-solving skills, and enhanced coping strategies for issues such as depression, anxiety, relationship troubles, unresolved childhood issues, grief, stress management, body image issues and numerous other challenges. Counseling can offer you a fresh perspective on the problems you are facing. Some of the benefits available from counseling include:
- Attaining a better understanding of yourself, your goals and values.
- Developing skills for improving your relationships.
- Learning new ways to cope with stress and anxiety.
- Managing anger, grief, depression, and other emotions.
- Improving communication and listening skills.
Changing old behavior patterns and developing new ones.
- Discovering new ways to solve problems in your family or marriage.
- Improving self-esteem.
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.