Professional counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.

Counselors work with clients on strategies to overcome obstacles and personal challenges that they are facing.

Contrary to popular misconception, you don’t have to be “crazy,” desperate or on the brink of a meltdown to go to therapy.

At the same time, therapy isn’t usually necessary for every little struggle life throws your way, especially if you have a strong support system of friends and family. So how do you know when it’s time to see a therapist?

Most people can benefit from therapy at least some point in their lives.

Sometimes the signs are obvious but at other times, something may feel slightly off and you can’t figure out what it is. So you trudge on, trying to sustain your busy life until it sets in that life has become unmanageable.

Signs You May Need Help From a Professional:

#1 Feeling sad, angry or otherwise “not yourself.”

Uncontrollable sadness, anger or hopelessness may be signs of a mental health issue that can improve with treatment. If you’re eating or sleeping more or less than usual, withdrawing from family and friends, or just feeling “off,” talk to someone before serious problems develop that impact your quality of life. If these feelings escalate to the point that you question whether life is worth living or you have thoughts of death or suicide, reach out for help right away.

#2 You’ve lost someone or something important to you.

Grief can be a long and difficult process to endure without the support of an expert. While not everyone needs counseling during these times, there is no shame in needing a little help to get through the loss of a loved one, a divorce or significant breakup, or the loss of a job, especially if you’ve experienced multiple losses in a short period of time.

#3 Something traumatic has happened.

If you have a history of abuse, neglect or other trauma that you haven’t fully dealt with, or if you find yourself the victim of a crime or accident, chronic illness or some other traumatic event, the earlier you talk to someone, the faster you can learn healthy ways to cope.

#4 You can’t do the things you like to do.

Have you stopped doing the activities you ordinarily enjoy? If so, why? Many people find that painful emotions and experiences keep them from getting out, having fun and meeting new people. This is a red flag that something is amiss in your life.

Other Information About Psychotherapy/Counseling

Psychotherapy cannot be successful unless you want to be there.

First and foremost, it’s essential that you not feel trapped into making an appointment. If you feel coerced into going to therapy, express your discomfort to the therapist. Therapists are nurturers and helpers but not mind readers, so don’t hold in your reluctance.

Psychotherapy will not fix you.

YOU will fix you. The job of a psychotherapist is to help you help yourself. Advice-giving creates dependency, whereas helping you discover your patterns that keep you stuck or undermine your well-being creates self-awareness. The goal of psychotherapy is to empower you with ways to deal with life issues, learn the triggers for your depression, and build resiliency, so you can find well-being.

Psychotherapy does not always make you feel better.

Making a breakthrough in therapy is exciting and meaningful. However, achieving awareness sometimes requires you to be brave and fearless. Recalling memories and experiences, or changing a behavioral style, can be trying, upsetting—even overwhelming.

Psychotherapy will not work if you have unrealistic expectations.

Setting realistic goals can make psychotherapy a winning experience. Change does not happen overnight. Nor does the development of insight. Hardest of all is replacing old behaviors with new ones. It takes time.

Psychotherapy is not like talking to a friend.

Therapy is the forming of an alliance to bring about change in your life. This is done with a therapist who is caring, empathic, and skilled in the symptoms and/or illness you experience. Psychotherapists train many years in the art of listening and, unlike a friend or family member, listen not only with the intent to just understand but also with the goal to identify and analyze.

Being an active listener enables a therapist to use theory and techniques to stir your observations as treatment proceeds. I often hear people say, “Therapy is a big rip off,” or, “You’re paying for someone to listen to you.” Well, it is true that you’re paying for someone to listen, but a psychotherapist’s skills go beyond that of ordinary listening. Combined with your therapist’s clinical objectivity, enables you to get a balanced, unbiased frame of reference in treatment. Something friendship often blurs.

Psychotherapy requires you to be comfortable with your therapist.

There’s a lot of chemistry in talk therapy. Without this connection, it may be difficult to feel comfortable talking about difficult issues and to feel safe letting go of fears or trying out new behaviors.

The importance of your therapist’s training should be equally matched with the level of comfort you feel in sessions.

Once you’ve done your research on finding a therapist, let your phone call be the first test for this chemistry connection. Many times, you can get a sense of how a therapist conducts him- or herself with this initial phone contact.

Thereafter, let your gut instincts take over at the consultation. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s perfectly fine to seek out another professional. I encourage second opinions if the match isn’t there. Finding a “good fit” in therapy is more important than in any other kind of professional relationship you’ll have in your life.

  • Here Are A Few Questions To Think Over As You Prepare To Enter Counseling:

  • What are your biggest, boldest hopes and dreams? What is getting in your way

  • Has anything changed in the past several months in your life that has made your problem worse or brought it to your attention more than in the past?

  • What has changed in your behavior/thoughts/feelings that makes you know this problem exists?

  • Why now? If your problem has been in existence for a while, what was it that motivated you to seek help at this moment in your lif

  • If you were to fast forward to 6-12 months from now and in that future you could say, “Therapy is really helping me and I’m glad I’ve been going”, what would look different in your life?

Ways To Calm Your Anxiety About A First Therapy Session

Remember that therapy is 100% confidential. This means that nothing you share would ever be shared with another individual unless you were to talk about harm to yourself, harm to others or any kid of child or elder abuse.

Remember that your therapist is human. Therapists have a lot of professional training and some helpful techniques and theory, but the most important “tool” that we have is that we are also human beings.

Remember that therapy is a process that will unfold over time. If you can have patience with the process, and with yourself, you will see results; but they will happen more like seeds growing in a garden than like a home improvement project that is finished in one Saturday afternoon.

Tips For Getting The Most Out Of A First Therapy Session

It is so important that you find the right fit in a therapist, and one size does not fit all. You should feel a warmth, a welcoming attitude and an earnest desire to see things from your perspective and help you achieve your goals.

Just focus on being yourself and saying what you need to say. It might take three sessions for you to decide whether you feel comfortable, or it might take one. As things are wrapping up at the end of your session, the therapist might ask you how you feel about working together.

Recognize that you will feel uncomfortable. People enter therapy because there is a problem. You have sought out counseling because you are ready to stop avoiding your problems, at least to some degree, but you might feel anxiety, guilt, sadness, embarrassment, etc creeping in when you actually start to do this.

If there is anything you do not want to discuss up front, it is always within your power to say so, or to indicate that the topic is an area of concern but that you would like to provide more details later. I believe it is an important self-care strategy for each of us to keep information to ourselves until someone has earned the right to know about it, and it’s ok if you think I need to earn that right for a few meetings before you share.

Do some self-reflection in advance. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers in therapy. It is about you, your perspective, your challenges, your values and your goals.

What Happens At A First Counseling Appointment

Some Common Elements to First Therapy Sessions.

I usually start an initial session off by greeting a new client, asking about their day, just general nice person small talk. Because it’s important to feel like you’re easing your way in to a conversation with a stranger about your “big things”. So I will make sure a new client has a comfortable seat, has found my office without too much stress, has a place to put their things and is able to settle in.

We will start from what I already know. My intake paperwork covers the major basic questions (demographics, history and what’s bringing you in, generally speaking). Some therapists have you fill paperwork out at your first session, but I prefer to have this all finished up front so we can delve into the important task of building our relationship.

I will ask about additional things that may or may not pertain to you. The reason for this is that I consider our first session an “evaluation”, meaning we get a 360 degree view of your life and your goals. If you haven’t already mentioned issues like physical health, substance use, work history/satisfaction with work or significant relationships in your life, I will want to know a little bit about those areas. Sometimes folks come in for therapy thinking that a certain area of their lives is “irrelevant” to the problem at hand and we discover after some ongoing conversation that that area really is connected with their struggles.

We will talk about a plan moving forward. This discussion usually involves setting a few general goals for our work together and talking about how frequently we will meet.

I will ask you if you have any questions for me. Sometimes clients ask me “how do you propose that we approach this problem?”, or “how long do you think I will have to come see you?”. I welcome any questions that are on your mind and we will discuss them.

We will discuss our next appointment time and you’ll be on your way.