This brief article will answer a few important questions about counseling. I will use the terms counseling, psychotherapy, and therapy inter-changeably since they mean the same thing. Why does a person decide to go to counseling? How do you choose the right place and the best counselor for you? How long does therapy last?

Is it time to go to counseling?

Ask yourself a few questions. Are you happy or constantly suffering? I believe that happiness is an inside job. Do you blame your parents or spouse for everything wrong in your life? Therapy is where blame stops and self-responsibility starts. Most of us find ourselves sharing our problems with our girlfriends or mates. This can be helpful, but do you find the issues disappear or return? Deeper, long lasting, work can be done in therapy.

There are times in life when stress levels seem more than you can bear. You may feel overwhelmed or unable to deal with the life situations placed on you. Stress is the response to events that upset our balance in some way. This is when you need to find the courage to ask for help. We all need help at one time or another. Stress is inherent in each of our lives. It is a sign of inner strength to reach out, and make an effort to change instead of staying stuck. Why wait until a major crisis occurs? Make it your personal goal to find a more balanced life, and call a counselor now.

Stress management experts have created a list of the top life stressors. They include: Marriage, pregnancy or the birth of a child, divorce, marital reconciliation, death of a spouse or close family member, jail term, personal injury or illness, loss of a job, retirement, and change in financial state.

Experts suggest if you have one event from the list, it may be time for professional help. Definitely, if you have two or more events from the list, its time to get some help.

The first step is in recognizing how stress affects you personally. Become aware of what happens to you emotionally and physically during a stressful situation. The signs and symptoms of stress may include; moodiness, a short temper, feeling agitation, memory problems, trouble thinking clearly, indecisiveness, feeling on edge, muscle stiffness, insomnia, chest pain, procrastination, over use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, headaches, constant worrying, loneliness, or eating more or less than usual. The list is endless and varies from person to person. These signs and symptoms can also be caused by medical reasons, so consult your physical doctor to determine if illness may be the cause of these symptoms.

Counseling helps individuals with a variety of challenges. Including: depression, anxiety, time management, career goals, midlife crisis, self-esteem, addiction, obsessions, family or parenting problems, relationships issues, loss, loneliness, fears and phobias, anger issues, sexual abuse, change of life issues, stress management, spiritual crisis, and anything else that seems to trouble you.

There are many different theoretical forms of therapy available. Psychoanalysis, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, exposure, dialectical, family, interpersonal, play therapy, music therapy, group, and crisis name a few. I encourage you to explore all these theories through your library or on the Internet. Having a basic idea of each will help you find what meets your needs.

Goals of treatment will include; identifying your problems, begin to take personal responsibility and look inward. Identify and change behaviors or thoughts that adversely affect your life. Explore relationships and experiences, and find better ways to cope and problem solve. Set realistic goals, and begin to achieve them. The first session or two may be a psychological evaluation where the therapist asks a lot of questions past and present. Then you form goals together and have talk therapy until they are reached. Most therapy session last 50 minutes and meet once a week for several months. If you have more extreme issue you may meet more than once a week, and treatment may last more than a few months.

Where do I go for Counseling?

There are many places that offer counseling at a variety of prices. If you have health insurance, they may have a list for you. Private practice, group practices, local hospitals outpatient services, local youth service centers, or community mental health centers. You can now find telephone and email counselors if transportation or cost is an issue. You may feel more comfortable getting a referral from a friend or your medical doctor. Most people want to stay close to home since you may be going for a few months, and not have the time to travel far.

There are web sites where you can get referrals for therapist in your area. Some of the professional networking groups can help including; Association of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist (,,, American Psychological Association ( to name a few. Do a goggle search and see for yourself.

You can also look in your yellow pages under physician-psychiatrist, psychologist, counseling services, marriage counselor, or social worker. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and can prescribe medication. Psychologists have earned a PhD and have more training than the Masters level Counselors or Social Worker. In addition, some addiction counselors have a 2 year degree. The cost of treatment is more, with the more advanced degrees. Each of the levels of degree and training may also have a specialty, which can lead you in the right direction. Every state has a licensing system. You can look your counselor up online or call to make sure they are licensed in your state. On my web site, I offer a link you can click on which takes you to the Illinois licensing site to verify me.

How do I choose the therapist that’s right for me?

A good therapist is non-judgmental, compassionate, wise, and supportive. I suggest you take an active role in whom you ultimately select as your therapist. Often when we go to health care providers’ we lose our individual power, and do whatever they tell us. Being a victim of health care instead of a shopper is not helpful. Shop around like you would for a new car. Make your selection carefully. If your friend liked a therapist, it doesn’t mean you will.

Ask yourself if you feel more comfortable with a male or female, and state that choice in the beginning. If you want someone who shares’ your religious views go to your church for a referral. If you don’t understand English ask for a bilingual counselor. If you’re troubled with marital problems select a therapist who specializes in marital counseling. If you suffer from severe anxiety or depression, and think medication may help choose a psychiatrist. These days, many psychiatrists are too busy to do hourly therapy sessions. PhD’s and Masters level clinicians will see you, and then send you to an MD for medication management. Sometimes your medical doctor will prescribe depression medication for you but I don’t recommend this since they will not be following you weekly, and may not be informed on the latest psychiatric drugs.

Take a few sessions to decide if you connect well, and if you don’t go somewhere else. I met a woman at church who told me she went to the local mental health center, since it was economical for her and was given a therapist. She said, “The first session she seems to listen, the second session she seemed uninterested in what I was saying. She kept telling me that she used cognitive theory. At each turn, I felt it was about her, and that she was judging me. Trying to fit me in her little box.” I suggested she call and ask for a different therapist if she didn’t feel like they could work together. She was surprised that she had that option. Be assertive with the intake worker stating you don’t feel that the therapist you were given can help you. Take an active role in trusting someone with you inner most being.

Author's Bio: 

Mary Kay Thill, MA, LCPC, CCSAC a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, motivational speaker, spiritual guide, and writer with over 25 years of experience helping others grow. I have a background in individual, marital, and family psychotherapy. My work history includes outpatient treatment centers, community mental health, and I was the clinical director at a home for young women.