Category Archives: Behind the Counselor’s Door

Why I Read Self-Help Books

Why I Read Self-Help Books | Think Like A Counselor

Image courtesy of Susana Fernandez, via Flickr

When I was a kid, I always resented running around the gym in PE while the less-than-fit coaches sat on the sideline and yelled at us to run faster. I would think, “If fitness is such a priority for you, why don’t you get out here and do it yourself?” (Although I was probably a little less articulate than that since I was in fifth grade and out of breath.) To my young mind, it only made sense that if someone is trying to tell me what to do, they first should be able to demonstrate that they can do whatever it is they’re telling me to do.

At the same time however, I’m not expecting perfection. If I’m working with a fitness trainer, they don’t need to have the perfect body in order to help me get into better shape. Even if they still have flaws and areas of weakness (because who doesn’t?), they still have the knowledge, perspective, and motivation to help me with something I’m struggling with.

I believe that the same idea applies to counselors. Some people might find it strange to see a counselor reading a self-help book or seeking out personal counseling for themselves, but how can we ask a client to do such difficult work without being willing to do our own work as well? In the counseling program I attended, students are even required to complete a certain number of personal counseling sessions. There are two reasons for this: to teach counselors what it feels like to be a client, and to help counselors work through any personal issues that may affect their ability to be effective with clients. If I recently experienced a significant death in my family, for instance, I may have a difficult time working with a client who is grieving unless I have time and opportunity to process my own loss. Continue reading

To Tweet, or not to Tweet?

To Tweet or Not to Tweet |

Image courtesy of Andreas Eldh, via Flickr


I’ve been doing a lot of reading about how to grow a small business via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest (when I’m not wasting time on aforementioned social media sites, of course). Some of the advice I read doesn’t apply to me since I’m fortunate to be a part of an existing agency, which is a good thing because I don’t know the first thing about business accounting and other scary-sounding things like that. That being said, I do put a lot of effort into getting my name out there and finding new clients, so I occasionally stop looking at recipes and funny cat GIFs to research how to do that more effectively and efficiently. I even did something the other day that I swore I would never do: I created a Twitter… I just realized I don’t know the appropriate lingo… handle? Username? What is it called? Whatever, I joined Twitter. Continue reading

The Perils of Open Mindedness

The Perils of an Open Mind |

Image courtesy of Duane Romanell, via Flickr

For me, one of the most vital qualities that I can bring to a counseling session is an open mind. Counseling is a safe place to explore the troubling, confusing, and even taboo feelings and thoughts that clients struggle with: judgment, condemnation, and censure have no place here.

I am human, however, and I do hold my own views, opinions, and values. Sometimes these views and values are in direct contradiction to something that a client believes, and I need to remain objective and accepting in my demeanor in order to maintain a safe space for the client. Remaining silent isn’t enough, however. A large part of what makes counseling healing and effective is empathy, which is the ability to identify with what another person is feeling or experiencing. Maintaining an open, empathic mindset all day, every day, for such as wide range of different people, however, can leave me feeling a bit unmoored about what I personally believe and feel. Once I pull down my boundaries to open my mind, it can be difficult to remember at the end of the day that what is good and right for one person may not be good and right for me. Continue reading

What to Expect from a Counseling Session

Part III in my series “What is Counseling?,” providing information about the profession and experience of the counseling process.

What to Expect in a Counseling Session |

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes, via Flickr

Making An Appointment

When you call or email a therapist to make an appointment (using all of the information I provided in the previous post about how to find a good counselor), you may be speaking to their office manager or directly to the therapist. Counselors vary widely in their availability and flexibility, so some may be able to see you on weekends or evenings and be very accommodating, while some may have a full schedule and only be able to fit you at a certain time during the week. Some therapists even have waiting lists for clients. If their schedule doesn’t fit with yours, you can always look for another provider or ask for recommendations from the therapist you contacted. As I mentioned in the last post, fees for therapy also vary widely, so make sure that you establish what you’ll be paying for what type of service prior to going to your first appointment. Once the appointment is scheduled, the counselor may send you some paperwork to fill out or have it for you at the office, which will ask for your address, contact information, and provide some additional information about the counselor’s policies and procedures. As always, you should feel comfortable asking any questions or clarifications about the process.

Inside the Session

I talked a lot in the last post about the training and experience that goes into becoming a licensed mental health professional, but you likely won’t notice any of this extensive training during a real session. This is because the conversations you have in session usually just feel like… a conversation! Most counselors don’t hook you up to machines or make you lay on a couch (unless you are undergoing certain forms of specialized treatment). While I know a lot of technical jargon and theories, I do my best to phrase my ideas and questions in very accessible language, so it’s easy for my clients to understand and process what I’m saying. I may sound fancier when I talk about cognitive restructuring or solution-focused brief therapy, but if all I get is a blank look from my client, it isn’t helpful to them or me. This is easy for us to forget, so always let your counselor know if you don’t understand a term or phrase that they are using—what they’re saying shouldn’t be a mystery to you! Continue reading

What is a Counselor?

Part II in my series “What is Counseling?,” providing information about the profession and experience of the counseling process.

What is a Counselor? |

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock, via Flickr

What qualifies someone as a counselor or therapist?

There are many different types of mental health professionals that can provide therapy, such as psychologists, social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists, and different states often have different names for these practitioners and their licenses. Each license has its own educational and experience requirements, although almost all require a master’s degree in the field and some years of supervised post-degree experience. If someone is a licensed mental health professional, it means that they have spent hundreds of hours in school, thousands of hours working in their field (and being supervised and critiqued to ensure the quality of their work), and countless hours studying and preparing for tests, continued education, and personal research for clients.

There are some people advertising as counselors or therapists who don’t have this education or experience, because these general terms are not tightly regulated (just like someone can call themselves a massage therapist or even a doctor without the necessary credentials). Just as with any health care provider, make sure to check up on a mental health professional’s credentials before beginning therapy to ensure that they have the necessary training and experience to provide the services you want. There are governing boards for each profession, such as the Licensed Professional Counselors Board of Examiners (which regulates LPCs, LMFTs, Counselor Interns, and Marriage and Family Interns) or the National Board for Certified Counselors (for NCCs), with which counselors are required to register in order to hold those licenses, so you can always check with these boards if you’re unsure about a professional’s credentials. Continue reading

What is Counseling?

Part I in my series “What is Counseling?,” providing information about the profession and experience of the counseling process.

What is Counseling? |

Photo courtesy Scallop Holden, via Flickr

Counseling /ˈkouns(ə)liNG/  (noun)

“the provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties, especially by a professional.”

This is a pretty simple definition for a complex, multi-faceted profession, but it’s a place to start. It’s easy for counselors to forget that not everyone understands who we are, what we do, or what to expect from the counseling process. I fear that this lack of information is a barrier for many people to seek help, maybe because the negative perceptions outweigh the positive evidence for what counseling can do, or they simply don’t have enough information to even consider their opinion on therapy. When I tell people at parties or social functions that I’m a counselor, I usually get a blank look in return and some version of, “So that means you do…what?” or maybe, “Like a school counselor?” My husband has suggested that I introduce myself as a therapist, a mental health counselor, or a marriage and family counselor, which is a good idea and would all be accurate labels for what I do. However, the larger issue is that most people still wouldn’t understand quite what that is! Continue reading

Let’s Get Comfortable Talking about Mental Health Issues

Talking About Mental Health |

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I found this awesome article on HelloGiggles yesterday entitled “Why I’m opening up about my anxiety medication,” where the author, Sammy Nickalls, speaks candidly about her mental health struggle and her motivation for talking openly about it. My favorite part:

If you’re on a medication for anxiety, depression, or any other mental condition, I implore you to talk about it. Talk about it even if people look away. Talk about it even if they squirm. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, talk about it. Because that discomfort—that’s the stigma surrounding mental health, rearing its ugly head.

Mental health is just as essential as physical health, but yet it’s considered a private issue that you should deal with on your own, a shameful issue, while everyone else freely discusses the pills they’re popping for their sore back.

Start talking about your mental health.

Continue reading

Let’s Talk about S#%@

Why Counselors Curse | Think Like a Counselor

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My father and I are engaged in an ongoing battle about my cursing, and by ongoing battle I mean that I occasionally use an expletive in a blog post and my dad gently chides me for it. The exchange goes something like this: Dad, “Great post, except for the f-word!” Me, “Yeah I figured you wouldn’t approve, but it was an honest feeling.” And we carry on, me continuing to be a potty mouth, and him continuing to disapprove but also continuing to read and support my posts (I should mention at this point that my dad is pretty awesome). It’s a good arrangement, but it has called my attention to the fact that some of my readers may not share my comfort with or affinity for colorful language. To those readers, I first apologize for any offense, but grant me a moment to explain my motives.

I grew up in a very conservative environment where “crap” was once considered a curse word and my brother and I were even forbidden to use the word “duh” (although now that I think about it, that was probably because it was incredibly annoying more than anything else). As I got into college and started expressing myself differently, as many 20-somethings do, I was always careful to show respect to the people in my life who did not approve of such language. I personally find expletives incredibly useful and satisfying for expressing strong emotions or making a point, and I feel most authentic when I can talk in a way that fully encompasses that range of emotions. That being said, given my upbringing, I do understand that others may feel differently. Continue reading

Emotional Boundaries in Counseling

Presence in Counseling | Think Like a Counselor


Sometimes the hardest thing about being a counselor is not being able to fully speak my mind in session. We are trained as counselors to maintain a certain therapeutic distance, because some measure of objectivity is needed to provide space for people to work. If a friend of mine is experiencing pain, I can provide comfort: a hand on their arm, some choice expletives for the person or situation that hurt them, empathetic emotional outrage in support of their pain. As a counselor, I have to suppress some of those responses, because if I focus on MY experience of a client’s pain, I’m interrupting their experience and processing of it. Sometimes though, it’s so hard to respond in a professional way when all I really want to say is: “Fuck that person for doing that to you.”

Childhood sexual abuse is one of those situations. When I’m listening to someone recount years of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted family friend, and they tell me how they still can’t sleep at night or attend family functions, when they express guilt that they couldn’t stop the abuse from happening, and how the trauma led to years of depression and suicide attempts, it’s hard to keep my own emotional responses in check. Continue reading

Depression and the Holidays

Depression and the Holidays | Think Like a Counselor

Friends are often surprised that the holiday season is a pretty slow time for me as a therapist. It’s true, people frequently complain about the increased stress due to financial concerns, family issues, and overall feeling of too much to do with too little time to do it during the holidays. Here’s the thing, though: many people feel too busy because of those stressors to consider making an appointment to see a therapist about the problems! Case in point: I’ve been meaning to make a dentist appointment for weeks now, but it just hasn’t been at the top of my to-do list with gifts to buy, parties to plan, and so on (although with all the candy I’m eating, it should really be a priority).

You might be thinking, “But what about the high suicide rates around the holidays?” Continue reading