What exactly is counseling?
Professional counseling is a process of between counselor and client and is focused on assessing, diagnosing, and treating disorders and non-disorder issues that are mental, emotional, or behavioral. Such disorders may be based on biological factors, beliefs, problem solving skills, experiential skills, or relationship interactions, so these areas of life may be addressed in counseling. Professional counseling uses counseling and psychotherapeutic principles to provide treatment. The treatments used vary from person to person depending on the client’s needs.
Who can practice professional counseling?
There are many professions who use the word “counseling” or “counselor”. There are camp counselors, financial counselors, and legal counselors, but such occupations are not qualified to provide professional counseling (see the above description of professional counseling).
In Oregon, a professional counselor must have at least a master’s degree in counseling or a related field from an accredited and approved university program, have many hours of post graduate training in counseling (at least 2400 of in person hours, 2-3 hours per month of training by a supervisor, and approximately 20 hours per year of continuing education), pass the National Counselor Examination by the National Board for Certified Counselors, pass the Oregon state laws and ethics exam, and follow rules developed and enforced by the Oregon Board of Licensed Counselors and Therapists (OBLCT) to obtain a full license to practice independently.
The LPC after a counselor’s name stands for Licensed Professional Counselor. A registered LPC-Intern is still in the process of completing all the steps required to qualify for full licensure and practices under supervision. If you want to check on the status of a professional counselor’s license, you can look them up on the OBLCT website.
There are a variety of professionals who are qualified to provide counseling, even if they are not a professional counselor. For example, the OBLCT also oversees licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), who can also offer counseling services. Other state boards oversee other professionals who are allowed to practice counseling services, such as psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, physicians, and some employees of government agencies. Each profession has its own set of standards to follow. Some have more training in counseling than others.
Many counselors refer to themselves as simply “counselors” without the word “professional.” This is simply an abbreviation of the longer term “professional counselor,” but all requirements to practice still apply.
Is coaching the same thing as counseling?
No. Coaching is typically focused on helping a person achieve specific goals, like reaching a sales goal in their business, passing a difficult test, or implementing new health skills. Counselors can provide coaching services as a part of counseling, but coaches (e.g. life coaches, business coaches, wellness coaches, etc.) are not legally allowed to provide professional counseling. They cannot diagnose or provide treatments for disorders.
In Oregon, there are currently no educational, training, or testing legal requirements for coaches (as of the time that I write this). Even a “certified” coach may be certified by an organization that is unqualified. This can be harmful if an unqualified person attempts use techniques that may be ineffective or may make problems worse.
However, there are excellent coaches who can help you achieve your goals. If you choose to work with a coach, ensure that they have an educational or experiential background to support their approach.
If you require help for a mental health disorder or are dealing with complex life challenges that go beyond accomplishing goals, you may be better served by seeking counseling or psychotherapy services from a licensed professional qualified to provide such services.
Who should see a counselor?
Individuals, couples, children, families, groups, and organizations can each benefit from professional counseling services. Gresham Counseling and Therapy LLC currently offers counseling only to individuals.
Clients often seek counseling for problems with emotions, thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, relationships, life questions, career goals, educational development, daily tasks, personal needs, and well being.
How long does counseling last?
The length of counseling treatment varies. Some counseling programs have a specific number of sessions (often 10-12 weekly sessions) and others have no limit. Some clients achieve the results they want in less than 3 sessions, such as when a client is trying to figure out an answer to a specific symptoms or problem. Other client may require weekly, biweekly, or monthly sessions for years to heal deeper psychological wounds or maintain stability (typically with long-term mental disorder symptom maintenance or to maintain recovery from addictions).
Overall, the length of your counseling treatment will depend on your needs and the availability of services.
Should I really pay for counseling? Is it worth it?
Many people have told me that counseling has improved their quality of life more than the benefits they received from buying the latest techno-gadgets, fashion trend items, or video entertainment subscriptions. There are no guarantees, but if you are willing to engage in meaningful conversations, collaborate, and do the work between sessions, then counseling can help you through difficult times now and become an investment in your future.
For some people, counseling helped them identify more valued career goals and manage anxiety and depression to overcome academic and employment obstacles, allowing them to earn back the cost of counseling in their future jobs. Some people have found that paying for counseling has been more beneficial for their partnerships and families long-term than taking a 1 week vacation, which was fun but didn’t change their relationship dynamics. There are also people who discovered that counseling has reduced their need to rely on alcohol, tobacco, or drugs (which are often detrimental and expensive) and have saved money by no longer paying for these substances.
Although no one can predict how counseling may benefit you specifically, you may find that learning skills and gaining understanding now can help you make better decisions for yourself and your loved ones in the future. It is up to you to decide if the potential outcomes are worth the price.
Will my counselor tell me how to fix my problems?
Not exactly. Counselors typically strive to help clients learn the skills they need to fix their own problems. It is similar to the way a teacher’s job is to help you discover your learning style and academic skills or the way a fitness trainer’s job is to encourage you to practice healthy exercises properly. You still have to do the work yourself even if they are helping you learn how to do it. Counselors may help you develop insight, understanding, and skills, but you still have to make the decisions and put in the effort yourself.
- educate you about human development, mental processes, and relationships;
- help train you to learn new skills;
- listen to your personal experiences;
- tell you about the patterns in your life stories;
- help you problem solve, explore possible answers to tough questions, and coach you to achieve goals.
Can you help me change my partner, family member, friend, boss, etc.?
We can work together to try to understand the other person’s perspective, but we cannot control other people, so we can’t change them. Counseling is an opportunity for you to work on changing you.
Changing your behaviors may inspire or influence the other person to change as well, but no one can predict what those changes will be or if they will end up being the changes you want.
Shouldn’t most counselors/therapists know how to fix most problems?
No single person can have the answers to every question about a topic. Computers are helping with this problem by making more information accessible at any given moment as long as a properly equipped computer and Internet connection are available. Your counselor may have to look up information or refer you to somebody who has the information you need. In some cases, your counselor may encourage you to look up information on your own to help you build self-efficacy skills in our modern information age.
Also, keep in mind that no person knows your life better than you. Your counselor may know about which methods are most effective for most people and have statistics to support theories, but you are unique. What works for the majority may not work for you or your circumstances or goals may be different than what others face. The more you communicate with your counselor about what works and what doesn’t work for you, the closer you can get to finding a solution that works best for you.
Can a healthcare professional who has problems really help other people?
I often hear people say they have extremely high expectations about their healthcare professionals. Some people say things like, “doctor’s should know about every medical problem and medication, so they shouldn’t have any medical problems.” Others say things like, “if a therapist has any problems, then it means they don’t know enough to help me fix my problems.” Such ideas, though, fail to recognize that nobody is perfect. No matter how many degrees or years of training a person has, everyone will get sick or have problems at some point in their lives.
Your physical and mental healthcare providers are humans, and like all humans, have limitations and struggles. Medical providers can get sick and tired and may need to see a physician or nurse practitioner themselves. Mental healthcare providers can get have emotional challenges and bad days and may need to attend counseling or other forms of therapy to help them learn new ways to manage these problems. Even healthcare professionals need to use tools to work on their own issues.
And this is a good thing! Professionals who use the tools they share with clients are able to use their own experience to inform their practice. They may also have a better empathetic understanding of your struggles.
Can counselors date their clients?
No. “But what if…” No. Counselors, and other mental health professionals, are legally and ethically prohibited from having any romantic, sexual, or flirtatious relationships with clients.
Can counselors be friends with clients?
Not like the typical definition of friend. I can be friendly (most counselors are). Sometimes, we may encounter each other in non-professional settings, like grocery stores and gyms or even at parties (it happens). But counselors cannot socialize with their clients, This is a legal and ethical requirement. I want to ensure that I am providing the best professional service possible, so this requires me to keep a professional distance. It’s not because I don’t like you; it’s just the way this counseling thing works best.
Can you also see my family member and friends?
Different counselors have different approaches and ethical boundaries regarding this issue. It depends on a lot of factors (like whether you live in a small town with only 1 counselor or whether you are in family counseling vs. individual counseling).
I believe then when providing individual counseling, it is best to only have one person in a family as a client. This ensures the highest levels of confidentiality and allows family members to speak freely about their perspectives without the counselor having preconceived notions of the situation. Family members and friends may be invited into sessions to provide additional perspectives for my individual clients, but I will repeatedly return my focus back to my individual client’s needs.
If you want to have multiple family members, partners, or friends attend counseling together, you may benefit from a systems-focused counselor (e.g. family counselor, couple’s counselor, relationship counselor) or marriage and family therapist.
Can I give gifts to my counselor?
This is generally not allowed because it can interfere with the professional boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. Nothing personal, it’s just one of the rules of the job.
Can I write a review about my sessions with you?
I encourage clients to maintain their confidentiality, so I don’t encourage clients to leave reviews in public places (including online).
If you absolutely wish to write a review, you have the freedom to do so. Please keep in mind, though, that any details you place in a review will become public (even if it’s on a private message board or group), so it may be best to be as brief and vague as possible and use an alias that does not reveal your true identity.
Can I talk to my counselor in public?
To protect your confidentiality, I tend to avoid talking to client’s in public.
I will not approach you in most situations. Imagine you are walking along with a friend who does not know that you are in counseling (and you’d like to keep it that way). If I came up to you and said hello, your friend would probably want to know who I was or how we knew each other. You could tell them the truth, lie about how we met, or try to distract them by changing the subject. It can be a stressful moment for a client who doesn’t want to disclose to others that he/she is in counseling. I prefer to help you avoid the stress and awkwardness of such situations completely, so I will usually just treat you like any other random person I don’t know. I will smile briefly and continue on my way or walk by without making eye contact with you at all. It isn’t because I don’t like you. It’s because I respect your privacy.
If, however, you work in a job that involves interacting with customers (let’s say as a cashier), and I happen to be a customer in line, I may approach you. This is because it would be even more awkward and stressful for you if I refused to let you process my order. Your boss and coworkers would likely want to know why I demanded another cashier, sales person, etc., and that would probably put you in an uncomfortable situation. So in such cases, I would act like any other random customer and be on my way.
If you come up to me to say hello or introduce me to people your with, I will politely greet you and quickly end the conversation with a, “so good to see you; have a good day”. This is to protect your confidentiality. I would not want to accidentally begin talking about a confidential subject with you in a public setting.
Am I allowed to say “no” if I don’t want to do something my counselor suggests?
Yes! You have the right to refuse any treatment. If you are a danger to yourself or someone else, I may have to take protective measures, but if you don’t want to [fill in therapy activity here], then you can refuse.
What if I tell you something that you have to report to DHS or the police?
Counselors are mandated reporters. This means that if you tell a counselor about some situations, then we have to report those things to the authorities, even if you tell us to not tell anyone. This report may trigger an investigation and sometimes may require some changes to your treatment plan or living arrangements.
Situations counselors must report include
- child abuse, neglect, and endangerment,
- child pornography or sexual situations involving children,
- abuse or neglect of a elderly person,
- abuse or neglect of a person with a severe mental disorder or other medically vulnerable person,
- your intentions to severely hurt or kill yourself, and
- your intentions to harm or kill someone else.
I also report animal abuse to the appropriate authority (such as the county animal services).
What’s the difference between counseling and using a self-help book or program?
Humans are social organisms. Our brains are wired for relationships. We learn by watching others. Our understanding of the world is strongly influenced by the validation we receive from others about our experiences and beliefs. We experience empathy (feeling sad, happy, scared, or angry for others). Our brains have mirror neurons that copy the moods and behaviors of others around us, even when we don’t realize it. We will even connect and bond with non-humans and inanimate objects. People need people. We each need human relationships.
I love self-help stuff! I’m a huge fan of it. I’ve even written self-help articles and programs myself. However, no book can give you the benefits of a therapeutic relationship. No video can help you feel understood and validated. No app can stimulate your mirror neurons. Self-help can be helpful (imagine that), but if it doesn’t seem to be working for you, then it may be time to try counseling.
Are all counselors the same?
NO! (I’m very passionate about this.) Some counselors are directive and some are passive. Some focus on childhood, some focus on goals, some focus on biology, and so forth. Sometimes you may not like a counselor because he/she has an annoying voice, reminds you of somebody you don’t like, doesn’t dress in a way that feels professional enough, dresses too much like a professional, or just behaves in ways that don’t work for you. It is fine to admit that you don’t want someone to be your counselor. Keep trying different therapists. “Test drive” different counselors with different backgrounds or approaches. You will eventually find someone who is a “good fit” for you.
Do counselors bring their religious ideas into counseling sessions?
This varies depending on the counselor’s approach and the client’s needs. Some counselors openly share their religious beliefs as a part of their counseling approach. Other counselors will briefly describe their beliefs if clients specifically ask for this information. There are also counselors who will not disclose any information about their spiritual or religious beliefs at all. Counselors also must determine if it would be appropriate for a client to discuss such information, so they may provide this information to one client but not to another.
In any of these situations, counselors are ethically prohibited from imposing their spiritual or religious beliefs on clients. Counselors cannot refuse to provide treatment for a client due to the client’s religious or non-religious beliefs, even if those beliefs differ from those of the counselor.
What if I’m an atheist or agnostic; will I be told to pray, adopt a religion, or engage in a spiritual practice?
No. Gresham Counseling and Therapy LLC is a secular service provider. Services are not based on any religion. I use primarily evidence-based treatment interventions that emerge from the scientific method and research in biology and social science.
What if my religion or spiritual beliefs are extremely important to me, and I want to incorporate my beliefs into counseling?
You are welcomed to bring your beliefs or practices into your counseling treatment. Every person has a unique philosophy about spirituality and religion, so to ensure that I do not impose my own personal beliefs on my clients, I do not encourage clients to follow or participate in any of my own beliefs. Instead, I encourage clients to consider how they would like to incorporate their beliefs into the their treatment. However, if you are seeking spiritual guidance, I suggest using the services of a qualified spiritual counselor or clergy member who is aligned with your spiritual beliefs and qualified to work with your current challenges.
Will you do any assessments that I can give to a lawyer, probation officer, legal agency, etc. or use in legal matters, proceedings, or applications?
No. Gresham Counseling and Therapy LLC does not conduct mental health evaluations or testing for legal matters. This includes situations like divorce, child custody, crime, legal competency, risk of danger to others, professional competency, disability, registering service animals, law suits, or any other legal matters. Such assessments require the services of a professional who specializes in psychiatric evaluations and testing related to your specific concern.
You may be able to find a qualified professional by asking your attorney, court, or legal service for a referral or resource list.
Do you provide services to individuals who are required by the court to receive treatment?
No. Gresham Counseling and Therapy LLC does not provide court mandated treatment.
You may be able to find a provider who offers such services by asking your attorney, court, probation officer, or other legal services for a referral or resource list.