Perhaps your usual methods of managing stress or dealing with the difficult relationships in your life are no longer helping. Or, you find yourself repeating a pattern that always ends in pain or disappointment. Maybe a friend or family member has suggested you talk to someone.
No matter how you reach the decision to enter counseling, if you look to the media for images of what counseling is like, you might be led to draw an inaccurate conclusion. There’ve been quite a few TV sitcoms, dramas, and movies that have attempted to portray the therapist-counselor relationship. While at times entertaining, humorous, or even thought-provoking, these portrayals are typically not realistic.
In the recent movie 50/50, a young man battling cancer decides to explore counseling. His therapist is similar in age and is an intern at the hospital where he receives chemotherapy. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that throughout the film, we get a glimpse of the young intern’s struggle to maintain professional boundaries. In real life, this issue would be managed by case consultation with a good clinical supervisor, who could also help the therapist-in-training explore her own feelings and reactions while keeping the best interest of her client a top priority.
For purposes of this blog, I will use the terms “therapy” and “counseling” interchangeably. However, it’s important to know the credentials to look for in a mental health professional. Requirements vary by state; however most states require the completion of a graduate program, followed by supervised clinical experience, and passing a licensing exam. The following are some of the most common credentials for independent practitioners in the State of Maryland:
• Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical (LCSW-C)
• Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
• Licensed Clinical Psychologist (Ph.D.)
• Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT)
If you have health insurance, it’s a good idea to call your carrier first to find out what coverage you have (i.e. # of sessions, co-pays, etc). Your insurance company can also guide you to an in-network therapist. When you meet with a therapist for a first time, he will have lots of questions for you, but it’s OK to interview him a little also! Ask about her experience. Come to the first session prepared to talk about your goals for counseling.
Perhaps the most common myth or idea is that therapy will “fix” you, your mate, or your child. A counselor’s job is to help you identify your feelings, identify your thought patterns and how they influence your feelings, behaviors, and relationships; and give you tools to expand your ability to cope with life’s challenges. The work of counseling, however, is yours.
If you’ve been considering therapy, perhaps now is the time to try it. Change, whether positive or negative, is painful. It’s often said that a person will change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. What will it cost you to remain the same?
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 14 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.