What is Counseling???

Taking the step to go to counseling is a courageous one, but what are you really getting yourself into??

I see counseling as a relationship first and foremost between the therapist and the client.  Counseling is a process in which the client and therapist having come to understand and trust one another, work as a team to explore and define present problems, develop future goals for an improved life, and work in a systematic fashion toward realizing those goals.

A typical counseling session lasts 50 minutes and can be done individually, with a couple or family.  You can expect to start with an intake session where the therapist asks you questions about several areas of your life including history and present concerns to get an understanding of what has gone on in your life that has led you to this point in time. From there, you will identify and develop goals with your therapist.  These goals are your goals for your life and the therapist works with you to achieve these goals.  Ultimately, you do the work in counseling to achieve your goals and the therapist walks with you on this path offering guidance, encouragement, support and accountability.  From this point on, you and your therapist work together to realize your goals.  There are many approaches to counseling and your therapist may ask you to try things that may be outside your comfort zone, but these approaches are designed to help you make changes (that may be uncomfortable) in order to reach your goals.

Most therapists have areas of expertise and a code of conduct they must abide by according to their professional licensing board in their state.  Counseling is confidential and is considered privileged communication, meaning that it cannot be disclosed to anyone without the expressed written permission of the client. In Louisiana (where I practice), we have the following caveats to confidentiality:

Material revealed in counseling will remain strictly confidential except for material shared under the following circumstances, in accordance with State law:

  1. The client signs a written release of information indicating informed consent of such release.
  2. The client expresses intent to harm him/herself or someone else.
  3. There is a reasonable suspicion of abuse/neglect against a minor child, elderly person (60 or older) or a dependent adult.
  4. A court order is received directing the disclosure of information.

So what are your responsibilities as a client??

You, the client, are a full partner in counseling. You need to show up and participate in the process. Your honesty and effort are essential to success. As you work together with your therapist and you have suggestions or concerns about your counseling, you need to share these so the necessary adjustments can be made to your counseling. If it is determined by you or your therapist that you would be better served by another mental health provider, then your therapist should help you with the referral process. If you are currently receiving services from another mental health professional, you should inform your therapist and grant them permission to share information with this other professional in order to services for you.  Inform your therapist if you have any physical health issues that arise or medications that you begin taking as they may impact your counseling process.

What are the risks and benefits to counseling??

Risks: Since therapy often involves discussing unpleasant aspects of your life, you may experience uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, anger, frustration, loneliness, and helplessness. Talking about experiences in your life may be painful. Making changes  can be scary, and sometimes disruptive to your current relationships. It is important that you consider carefully whether these risks are worth the benefits to you of changing. However, there are no guarantees of what you will experience.

Benefits: You hopefully feel better! Counseling can lead to better relationships, solutions to specific problems, and significant reductions in feelings of distress. It may also result in feeling better about oneself and others, strengthening coping skills, reaching or making progress on one’s counseling goals, improving interpersonal relationships, solving problems, improved academic performance, determining a major/career direction, having a safe place to express emotions, or building on one’s strengths. Again…no guarantees.

Hopefully this has given you a better understanding of the counseling process and what you can expect.  I hope you choose to try counseling and embark on your path to wellness.


By: Adrianne Trogden