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Counseling: Where to Start?

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We are often asked about the counseling process and what to expect from initial sessions in counseling. Those first steps toward entering therapy can be daunting. How to find a therapist, what to expect during your first session and what the counseling process will look like are all challenging questions. To help demystify this process, we have compiled some thoughts on those questions here. This post will focus on some of the mechanics of initiating therapy. For more information about what constitutes a good therapist, check out this post.


Where can you find a good therapist?

Therapy is driven by two main referral sources: insurance and word-of-mouth. If possible, you should always find your therapist through a word of mouth recommendation. Ask friends, pastors, or family members if they have seen a counselor and what their experience was like. Try to find a recommendation that can give you a sense for what the therapist is like. Not every counselor is a good fit for every client. You may need to try a couple counselors out before you settle on one. Another source for finding counselors is through professional groups like the American Association of Christian Counselors or the American Counseling Association. You can always do a google search in your area for a counselor. Christian Counseling Resource Directory is another great option. These avenues will get you pointed in the right direction but are no replacement for first hand experience.


Questions to Ask During Your First Session

How long have you been counseling?

How do you believe people change?

Why did you become a counselor?

Have you been to counseling yourself?

Where did you go to graduate school?

What other certifications do you have?

What specializations do you have?

What have you done to develop your specialization?


You can also feel free to ask some personal questions about your counselor. While therapy is not about exploring the life of your counselor, it can be helpful to know a little bit about the person you are sitting with. We are often asked questions like:

Are you married?

Do you have kids?

Do you have any pets?

What is your favorite book?


How Long Should Counseling Last?

It would be wonderful if there was a formula for determining exactly how long counseling should last. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that can influence the length of time necessary for counseling.

First, it depends on the severity of the issue being discussed. If it is a problem like marital communication or career counseling or premarital counseling, then it is likely that counseling will last for a shorter amount of time- perhaps even as short as 4 or 5 sessions. If for example, it is an addiction, abuse or emotional issue, it may last significantly longer- a year or more.

Second, it will depend upon the type of counselor that you are seeing. There are modalities of counseling which believe counseling should never last more than 10 sessions. There are others that see counseling as a problem solving tool as well as a personal development tool. For these approaches, counseling can last as long as the client is growing, benefiting and interested in continuing. The brand of counseling we utilize at City Church honors the short term needs while primarily focusing on deep transformation. This type of transformation takes time and investment. Again, for more information on counselors who focus on depth work, check out our post here.

It is appropriate for you to ask your counselor how long they feel counseling should last. It may take them a few sessions to get an accurate feel of where you are and how long the process will last. However, they should be able to give you some indication based upon the goals you have set. In the end, it is really up to you. Some people find that being in counseling is like preventative medicine for their relational health. It allows them a venue to examine themselves and to grow and develop. Others want a particular problem to subside and when that has been accomplished, counseling is over for them.


What to Expect During your First Session

The first session of counseling can be a nerve-wracking experience. It is hard to know exactly what is going to happen. What will the counselor do or say? What is the client supposed to do?

First, do not expect anything Earth shattering during your first session. Your counselor does not know you or the thing you would like to talk about and they are not magicians.

Here are some things you should expect. Some of them are practical and some are not.

First, there is paperwork associated with going to counseling. Many counselors like to have an intake form filled out that does a general survey of your life. This gives them a quick overview of the possible areas that are being impacted by your decision to see a counselor. All counselors are required to provide you with a summary of the HIPPA privacy policy. This is the same with all health care providers. Many counselors will have a document ready to be signed stating that you have received this summary. A counselor may have a policies form that they provide for you. This gives you an idea of what is expected of you in terms of scheduling appointments and canceling appointments. Finally, all counselors should provide you with and talk you through an informed consent document. This is a standard item given to people when they choose to come to counseling. It lets you know what your rights are as a client. It will also highlight for you any areas under state law that requires a counselor to break confidentiality.

Your counselor may ask you if you have any questions for them about the counseling process. Feel free to ask whatever comes to your mind. You have a right to be informed about what is happening during your counseling.

After the formalities are taken care of, you can begin to discuss whatever it is that brought you to counseling. It is up to you. You start wherever you need to. This may take the remainder of the session and it is fine if that happens. Often, clients feel relieved just to begin talking things out and getting things out on the open. Your counselor will interject and ask clarifying questions or collect details about things that strike them. At the end of your session, your counselor will probably talk to you about scheduling another appointment.

Above all, you should expect to be listened to during your first session. No matter how experienced or amazing your counselor is, there is no way for them to know exactly what you have experienced. It is important for them to listen to you to get a sense of what you are dealing with.

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