So…You’re Thinking about Seeing a Counselor? by Laressa “Reesie” Beliele

Have you ever been going about your day, minding your own business, marking items off your “to do” list – and then you get a HUGE splinter embedded in your finger? You pull out what you can, but you know there is still part of that splinter deep in your finger. It hurts, and it’s annoying, but after a while you forget about it because, after all, the splinter is invisible and can be ignored.

            Then a few days later, your finger reminds you of the splinter. It might get red and swollen. It really hurts! You know that you have to get the splinter out. So you get a needle and tweezers, maybe ask help from someone else, and you starting digging into your sore finger to extract that offending splinter. You tear a hole in your skin, you bleed, and maybe you have some pus leaking out. This is painful! This is work! You cry, or scream, or cuss – you don’t want to do this because it hurts so badly. You keep digging; making vows that you’re never ever going to do anything again that might cause you to get a splinter (even though you know that is totally unrealistic). Finally, the malicious splinter is out! You can’t believe how small it is; after all, this little fellow caused you a lot of pain!

            Now you have a bleeding finger with a hole in it. You clean it and apply an antiseptic to your finger. You might even put a Band aid on your tender, violated finger. The finger stays sore for several days, and you give it special care while it heals. It does heal – your finger is able to function fully again. Life is good! However, you don’t forget about the pain that evil splinter caused.

            That is what counseling is like. Counseling helps you dig down deep to bring that troubling particle to light. Just like the splinter, this is not something you asked for; after all, you were just going about your life minding your own business. Counseling is work, and often it is painful. Effective counseling doesn’t just stop when the splinter is out; effective counseling helps you heal and cope. This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t ever get another “splinter” again; however, maybe the tools you learn in counseling will help you suffer less pain next time.

Finding the Right Counselor

            Finding the right counselor for you or your loved one may be a challenge. Decide what is important to you by answering these questions:

1.     What type of counselor is best for me?

2.     Do I know anyone who recommends this counselor?

3.     What does this counselor charge? Does this counselor take my insurance or is it private pay only?

4.     Where does this counselor provide sessions?

5.     What counseling technique does this counselor use?

            What type of counselor is best for me? A licensed counselor is someone who has met specific criteria in accordance with Oklahoma’s Rules and Regulations. There are several different type of licensed counselors:

a.      LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor

b.     LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

c.      LBP is a Licensed Behavioral Practitioner

d.     LADC is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor

e.      LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

f.      Licensed Counseling Psychologist 

Since I am an LPC, here is some additional information that you might find helpful. An “LPC Candidate” is a new LPC who has completed all academic requirements and, as required by Oklahoma LPC Rules and Regulations, is being supervised by at least one LPC-Supervisor for the first 3,000 hours. An “LPC under supervision”, in accordance with Oklahoma’s LPC Rules and Regulations, is an LPC who has been sanctioned by the Board of Behavioral Health Licensure for an ethical violation and is required to be supervised for a set amount of time.

            Insurance companies may approve all or only some of the different licensures.

            Do I know anyone who recommends this counselor? The recommendation from someone you trust is one of the most helpful tools in locating the right counselor for you or your loved one. Your doctor may recommend counselors. However, know that counselors are ethically forbidden to provide counseling services to family members, friends, co-workers, or others that might pose a “dual relationship”. Because of confidentiality, a counselor cannot provide “references” from current or previous clients.

            What does this counselor charge? Does this counselor take my insurance or is it private pay only? When you find a counselor whom you might consider, call and ask what they charge and if they take your insurance. This would be a good time to ask about the length of sessions (they may vary from 30 minutes to 1 ½ hours). You might also ask about frequency: once a week, once every 2 weeks, etc. Also, ask the counselor if they provide the type of counseling you are seeking: individual, couple, children, addictions, etc.

            Where does this counselor provide sessions? Don’t assume that the counselor has a private office in which they provide counseling. The counselor may share an office, provide home-based services, or use other locations for counseling sessions. You need to know how much travel is required if you select this counselor.

            What counseling technique does this counselor use? While most counselors use talk-based techniques, it’s a good idea to ask what type of therapy the counselor uses. Some of the most commonly used are Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Reality Therapy, Mindfulness, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. For example, if you are looking for counseling services for a child, you might want a counselor who does play therapy.

The First Counseling Appointment

            You will be asked to complete some paper work. An intake will be done – by your counselor or an agency worker. If you are unsure what position the people has who is doing your intake, then ask the intake person to clarify their position. Occasionally a person will be surprised when the person they see for a second appointment is different than the person with whom they spoke previously. You may be asked to sign consent for you or your minor child’s information to be obtained from previous counselors, doctors, hospitals, etc. This can be an important part of productive counseling.
  The first counseling appointment is also an opportunity for you to ask questions of the counselor. I suggest that you write these down beforehand to help you remember. Some questions clients have asked during first counseling sessions have included:

a.      Has the counselor ever worked with this type of problem (e.g. depression, bipolar, etc.) before?

b.     How long does the counselor expect to treat the client?

c.      Is the counselor familiar with the medication that the client is currently taking?

d.     How does the counselor involve parents and guardians when counseling a minor?  

A frequent question for many first-timers to counseling is “where do I sit?”. Unless indicated otherwise, choose the most comfortable option for you (i.e. chair, couch, bean bag, etc). Don’t hesitate to ask your counselor something that is important to you. After all, counseling is all about you!

            Here are some suggestions for that first counseling session:

a.      Allow yourself adequate travel time. If you are unsure of where you’re going, look the address up ahead of time. Don’t add to your stress by worrying about being late

b.     Dress comfortably casual. It’s difficult to relax if you’re wearing that seldom-worn suit and dress shoes

c.      Plan something pleasant, healthy, and restful after your session. You are likely to be emotionally tired.

d.     Expect that you and your counselor will need some time to establish rapport. It is usually not easy to meet a complete stranger and immediately “spill everything”.

e.      Counselors do not fix anyone. Counselors are tools, to help the client find more productive ways to cope with issues, emotions, and decisions.

Final Words 

            Counseling is not a one-time event. Chances are the situation that brought you or your loved one to counseling did not develop overnight. If you feel that are not progressing, discuss this with your counselor. It may be that a different technique can be utilized. Often clients are so accustomed to their familiar problems that is difficult for them to see small areas of success.

            Remember the splinter analogy? Counseling is not always a happy, wonderful thing. Sometimes it can be painful to “dig deep” into what really needs to be dealt with in our lives. Sometimes, even after healing, we still have scars. The NAMI Stages of Emotional Responses relate to counseling as well.

            One of my clients accurately summed up his counseling experience. He said, “It was like I’ve been sitting in my house, and it’s really hot. I’m sweating a lot and just sitting around thinking about how hot and miserable I am.  Finally, I get up and turn on the air conditioner. I am better! Life is good! Thank you (counselor) for helping me to find the air conditioner!”

Erik Collins