What Are Your Expectations For Counseling?

Or, you may be thinking “what should they be?”. Regardless of how much you have or haven't clarified your expectations for counseling, it’s important that you think about what you’d like to accomplish. Consider the following:

  • What issues are most important for you to address? Do your expectations for counseling--and what will be discussed--revolve around these issues? 
  • Do you know what 'doing better' looks like? What do you want to change or improve? If not, be prepared to work to gain clarity on this early on in the counseling process. 
  • Is there anything you do NOT want to discuss? Depending on what it is, you may or may not want to tell this to your counselor right away. In any case, it’s wise to consider if you have an issue that you don’t want to bring up, at least not in the short term (or maybe not at all). It is also important to be open to your therapist’s input about looking at this ‘hands off’ issue at some point. However, in my mind, this would be a discussion based on mutual respect and openness, not one where the therapist says 'I'm the expert, we need to do things this way'. 
  • Is there a certain type of expertise you are looking for in your counselor? Do you want him or her to have experience with a particular issue (such as addiction, trauma, or social phobia) or with a certain type of therapeutic model (Cognitive-Behavioral or Dialectical-Behavior therapy, for example)?
  • Are you prepared for the possibility that bringing up certain issues may actually cause you to feel less emotionally secure in the short run? For example, if you have some painful memories or issues that haven’t been in your mainstream thoughts for a long time, these may surface in counseling.
  • Do you expect your counselor to fix your problems for you? If so, you're going to be very disappointed. A good mental health counselor will help you tap into your strengths and resilience, and empower you to bring out your best. That's why I view the counseling relationship as a partnership, you are working with your counselor, and you are working on your issues between sessions also. Counselors who try to fix you are enabling, or 'doing things for you'. This certainly does not empower you, but rather builds an unhealthy dependence on the counselor.
  • Perhaps most importantly, are you willing to be persistent and patient and stay the course as you work on your issues and gain awareness of strengths and problems during the course of counseling? This factor is often what I call ‘the make or break factor’ in counseling.

In addition, does your counselor

  • Help you identify your strengths, and help you figure out how to use these to address your problems?
  • Listen to your definition of the problem, and accept it to some degree? This may mean that he/she agrees that it’s your perception of the problem (even if he/she disagrees with this perception), and as such respects this because it’s your viewpoint
  • Respect you as a person? Is there mutual respect between the two of you? This is a critical factor, and if mutual respect between helper and client doesn’t evolve over the first few sessions, it’s probably time to look for someone else

Some Questions to ask your Counselor

I describe some of the critical factors that go into choosing a good match for you on the home page. In addition to these things, I’d encourage you to ask about your rights as a client. While many therapists do explain these, some do not.

Furthermore, there are limits to the confidentiality of your sessions with a mental health counselor. The forms that your practitioner should go over with you during the first session are called Informed Consent. These forms explain these limits and other aspects of the therapy process. Your counselor ought to explain these to you in the first session, and if not, you should ask him/her about this. More on this here, as well as information about other aspects of informed consent. 

You May be Asking “Is it Really Worth the Time and Money?”

Well, that depends. Insurance coverage varies widely from plan to plan, and some counselors (like me) do not accept insurance, preferring to keep the third party out of the relationship between client and counselor. There are advantages and disadvantages to insurance, if you’d like further information on my stance, click here.

Here are some critical factors as to whether or not your expectations for counseling are met:

  • You find a mental health counselor who is a good match for you
  • You are able to establish clear goals for therapy
  • You are persistent in working on your issues
  • You are open to what your therapist tells you
  • You attend counseling consistently

If you do all of the above, you have gone a long way toward maximizing the chance that you’ll get the most possible out of the counseling experience. I will tell you from my experience that when my clients apply themselves in the manner described above, they almost always gain a tremendous amount of value from the experience.

Credentialing and Licensure: What Should I be Looking For?

You’ll notice that, like many other helping professionals, I use the words therapist and counselor interchangeably. Is there a difference? Does it matter? Yes it does.

To call oneself a psychotherapist, one needs to have specific credentials. Counselor is a bit more general, even mental health counselors don’t necessarily need specific credentials to use that title. However, regardless of what they call themselves, mental health professionals should have credentials, and this is the important part.

Here is what I’d encourage you to look for (not necessarily in any order):

LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Someone with a Master’s Degree in Social Work who also has completed 3500 hours of practice under a licensed supervisor and has passed the Oregon LCSW exam.

LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor. LPC’s also have worked under a licensed professional, and have completed 2400 hours of direct client work and passed their professional examination.

Ph. D licensed psychologist: Generally this is someone who has earned a Ph. D in clinical psychology, and has then completed the requirements for licensure. The requirements can be found here

PsyD: Although not found as often in Oregon, the PsyD credential is also used by some who practice mental health therapy. The PsyD is a professional doctoral degree designed to prepare students for a career as a psychologist, which means they can practice as mental health therapists.

In your search for a mental health professional, you may find others who call themselves counselors, therapists, etc. Ask what their credentials are. Be your own best advocate, you want to ensure that you receive assistance from someone who has the experience and education that you’d expect.

It is important to note that there are ‘peer professionals’ who do not necessarily have higher education degrees who provide excellent support and guidance. I know several personally. If you choose to get help from someone like this, fine. Just know that they may not have the education or experience that you want, and may not be able to go into issues to the depth that you'd like (especially if you are wanting longer-term therapy). 

Bottom line: Know what you’re getting! Nothing is worse than seeking help from a helping professional who isn’t what you thought they would be!

I sincerely hope this page has helped you clarify your expectations for counseling. It's worth the time and effort to do some research; after all, your counselor has a pretty important influence in your life!

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