Joseph_Budnick, MA
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Therapy Corner

So, I wanted to give you some info on what counseling is about and how to pick a counselor that will help. There is a lot of stuff on line that you can look at, but I don’t want to just rehash what’s there, so I’ll describe my ideas about it. I use the term counselor and therapist interchangeably. A psychologist may also fall into this category.

Why would a person even be looking for this type of resource? 
Lots of reasons from the simple to the serious. It may be a life issue; relationship, job, addiction, family, grief. It might be a concern with a change in mood: anxiety, depression, anger, emotional volatility. Sometimes it involves a person’s poor self-image or self-confidence. The bottom line is that there is something about yourself or your life that you would like to change. You can’t seem to do it all by yourself and you may not feel comfortable with friends or family helping you. If you have a physical pain, you see your medical doctor. If you have an emotional pain, you see a counselor.

Who do you see to help with this pain? 
 One common misunderstanding has to do with the label of Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a MD or DO that can evaluate psychological problems and prescribe medications to treat, not cure, symptoms. While a psychiatrist may provide some counseling, their expertise is in medication. There are lots of letters you might run into. PhD., LMSW, LPC, LMFT, LLP, and more. Professionals with these acronyms cannot prescribe medications in most states. Many people see both a counselor and a psychiatrist. Many people get their medications from their primary care physician.  

What do all the letters mean? 
 They have to do with the focus of a person’s academic degree and/or their professional license. In some settings the differences can be important. As a rule of thumb if any of the above providers with the listed credentials are offering mental health counseling services, as you might find in the Psychology Today Find a Therapist website, those services are targeted at very similar types of services.

How does one go about finding a counselor? 
 First and foremost, it must be understood that counseling is a very personal experience. It might not matter greatly which doctor gives you a flu shot, or which pharmacist fills your prescription, but you definitely want to be choosy about selecting your counselor. Going on-line you’ll find a gazillion listings for counselors and therapists. On a practical basis you might look for one that accepts your insurance and has office locations and hours convenient to you. Many people do not feel comfortable with the “big box” institutional providers with their crowded waiting rooms and “take a number” atmosphere. You may find a more personal and confidential setting to be what allows the counseling experience to be most effective. Above all it’s important to feel that you have a good “fit” with the person you select. You might do this initially with a phone interview to discuss what your goals are and to see how the counselor describes his or her approach to helping you do this. Don’t feel afraid to ask questions. You might want to do this interviewing with a few counselors to determine which one feels best. When you do select a counselor and arrive for your first session you should feel comfortable having any questions and concerns addressed. If you have any doubts or concerns, an experienced counselor would rather have these things addressed then to have you feel uncomfortable and uncertain. If things seem to go right during the first session, it’s not unusual to feel hesitant about coming back. This is often because we may not be accustomed to sharing our personal thoughts, feeling, fears, and hopes with others in our daily lives. I would urge you to continue with therapy and begin to consider it a safe, non-judgmental, place to share these things with a trusted professional in a confidential manner. Talk to your counselor about how you feel about the counseling experience. Counselors may be insightful, but they’re not mind readers.

Just a word about different types of therapy you might see or hear about, many with acronyms like CBT, REBT, ACT, DBT, EMDR. Some are described with words like interpersonal, psychodynamic or behavioral therapy. These all refer to tools that a trained counselor might use for specific purposes. Each one has its place. Most are effective when used properly. None are miracles in and of themselves. The most important tool is establishing the interpersonal fit.  

Hope this helps you in your journey. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.