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August 5, 2010

Questions About Counseling

Questions About Counseling? Four Answers to Help You Understand it Better

When you marry my daughter..?

By Barbara Long

What is a psychotherapist?

People are sometimes confused or even mystified about what a psychotherapist or counselor is. The psychotherapist is a professional and therapeutic guide. A psychotherapist is not a magical fairy who can wave a wand to make your problems go away. Neither is the psychotherapist a friend who is there only to listen and empathize.

Some people believe that anyone can hang a shingle on a door and provide mental health counseling. While someone may provide lay counseling services, professional psychotherapists are required by law to have specific training (a minimum of a Masters Degree in counseling, clinical social work, or marriage and family therapy). Additionally, the psychotherapist must pass a state examination. After college, the psychotherapist’s education continues with supervision for at least 2 years, and ongoing training, which must be completed, each two years for every year the therapist is licensed. In Ohio psychotherapists are licensed by, and held accountable to The Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. This board ensures psychotherapists have met all the legal requirements to practice in the state of Ohio. Additionally, they can be contacted by anyone who has concerns about unethical or illegal activities committed by anyone licensed by this board.

Psychotherapists are trained specifically to be able to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. Psychotherapists listen with a trained ear to the information a client provides, and then using questions, homework, and instruction guides a client on a journey of healing. Counseling involves hard work, work that cannot be done by the therapist, only by the client. In his book, The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin captures a concept that is true in the counseling journey, “People who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are.” The therapist is able to lead a client to the next stage of the journey, but the client, with the support of the therapist, must be able to walk through it. Therapists are trained in staying with a client to guide them through each stage.

What types of psychotherapy are available?

Psychotherapists utilize a variety of methods in working with clients. While some therapists utilize a single technique for all their clients, most tend to a more eclectic approach. This simply means the therapist combines elements from different therapeutic methods to best meet a client’s needs. Here is a list of different types of therapy with a very simple synopsis for each:

  • Behavioral: Focuses on the behavior, may use reward, reinforcement, and desensitization.
  • Biomedical: The use of medications to address mental health issues. This often works best when combined with mental health counseling.
  • Cognitive: Addresses dysfunctional thinking. Operates under the assumption that feelings are born out of thoughts. If the thoughts are changed, the feelings will follow.
  • Systems: Looks at the individual operates within different arenas such as family, work, school, and community. Works to address issues with the understanding that each arena or system affects the others.
  • Group: Several people who are working on the same issue come together under the supervision of a psychotherapist and work together and support each other on the uniting issue.
  • Play: A specific type of therapy for children that uses guided play.
  • Pastoral: Provided by a spiritual leader (such as a pastor or priest), this is generally short-term therapy.
  • Art Therapy: While all therapists may incorporate art into therapy, it is also a specialty field.
  • Music/Sound: Like art therapy, many therapist use music in therapy. There is however, a specific field with specialized training to use making and listening to music a part of therapy.
  • Culturally Based Healing Arts: These are as varied as the cultures they come from. If culture and culturally based healing is important to you, ask around to find someone who is knowledgeable in what you are looking for.
  • Faith Based: Like culturally based therapist, ask questions to find out if a therapist you are considering understands, shares, or at least can learn enough about your faith to support you in this area.

Signs that Counseling May be Helpful

  • Questioning whether or not it would be helpful. Just the fact there is a question demonstrates the value of pursuing the possibility.
  • Spend 5 out of 7 days feeling unhappy
  • Feel as if life is out of control and the stress is unmanageable
  • Have experienced significant loss.
  • Struggle to dealing with a life-threatening or chronic illness
  • Have lost sight of your priorities in life
  • Others mention you could benefit from counseling
  • Have difficulty controlling urges (anger, shopping, lying, etc.)
  • Your problems are affecting your work, concentration, or relationships in negative ways

What is the Process?

When you call for an appointment you may be asked for insurance information prior to even scheduling an appointment. This is done so that so insurance information can be verified and there are no cost surprises. You will know your coverage and co-pays (which may be different than other medical services provided by your insurance company).

During your first appointment there is, of course, the paperwork. You should plan to spend 15-30 minutes doing paperwork prior to seeing the therapist. The first session then consists of the therapist gathering information about you and what you would like to accomplish in therapy. It is also a time for you to ask questions about the therapist or the process of counseling. During either the first or second appointment specific goals will be set. Goals are important because they provide a framework of direction for the therapy. They also define what life will be like when your therapy is finished. Once these things are completed, the journey of healing begins.

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