Frequently Asked Questions
Questions You Might Ask:
What happens in counseling?
Generally, you will meet with your counselor regularly for about 45-50 minutes at the same time once each week. At these meetings, you will discuss your concerns and often provide some historical information. Counseling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client. Professional counselors help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil; seek to improve communication and coping skills; strengthen self-esteem; and promote behavior change and optimal mental health. Through counseling you examine the behaviors, thoughts and feelings that are causing difficulties in your life. You learn effective ways to deal with your problems by building upon personal strengths and learning ways to encourage personal growth and foster your interest and welfare. It is not unusual for students to feel nervous or uncomfortable at first, but this usually dissipates as your counselor helps you talk about your concerns.
What happens in the first appointment?
Generally, you will meet with a professional counselor or therapist regularly for about 45-50 minutes once each week. At these meetings, you will discuss your concerns with the counselor. The goal of counseling is to learn about our habits and patterns of feeling and behavior and how they cause us problems. We can then learn new habits and patterns which will be more successful for us. Although it seems strange to think that we might not know ourselves completely, experience has shown that many of the problem-causing habits and patterns are things we have done all our life and are so automatic that we don't even think about them as learned or optional behavior. Counseling provides a special setting in which we can learn about ourselves. This can help us to be more effective in our relationships with others and with ourselves. It takes time, helpful observations and support to recognize and change our ways of living.
Will I need to take medications?
Being seen for psychotherapy by a counselor does not necessarily mean you will need to take medications. Many psychological problems can be successfully treated without the use of medications. If you and your counselor decide that medications should be considered as a adjunct to counseling, your counselor will discuss referral options with you. You will need to see a physician (such as a psychiatrist) to be prescribed any medications. It is important to let your counselor know about any medications you have already been prescribed.
What do I look for when I talk with the counselor on the phone before the session and/or in our first sessions?
The most important question is the one you will ask yourself: How do I feel about this person? Do they seem comfortable and compatible for me? Do they seem empathetic? Naturally, you will feel somewhat anxious with each of the therapists you meet, but there will be differences in your feelings toward each. Pay attention to these feelings. Also, don't ignore your feelings. If you have a creepy or uncomfortable feeling, bring it up to the therapist or choose someone else—but don’t give up! One size does not fit all and sometimes it takes “trying on” a few therapists to find the right fit.
Is everything I say confidential?
All members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) subscribe to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice which require counselors to protect the confidentiality of their communications with clients. Most state licensure laws also protect client confidentiality. As a client, you are guaranteed the protection of confidentiality within the boundaries of the client/counselor relationship. Any disclosure will be made with your full written, informed consent and will be limited to a specific period of time. The law in the State of California provides the following exceptions to confidentiality, but even in these circumstances you will be informed before confidential information is revealed whenever possible:
If the counselor has knowledge of abuse of a child, elder, or a person with a disability.
If the counselor has knowledge of intent to harm himself/herself or others.
If the counselor receives a court order to the contrary.
How can I get the most out of my counseling sessions?
You can maximize the progress you make in counseling by being actively involved in the work you and your counselor are doing. Some suggestions include:
Be on time and try not to miss any of your scheduled meetings, consistency is important with counseling
Between sessions, make time to think about the things you have discussed with your counselor. Journaling about topics discussed can be helpful.
Invest in following through on any homework assignments, readings, or books your counselor has suggested for you
Be as honest and open with your counselor as possible.
How do I find a good counselor in the community?
Ask friends and family members: Sometimes the right therapist for your friend may not be right for you, but it is a starting place. Some people do not want to 'share' a therapist with someone they know.
Get a referral from another professional source -- e.g., your family doctor, etc.
Call your insurance company and find out if you have mental health benefits.
Should I consult my physician first before being seen?
Consult your doctor for a check-up before beginning counseling to make sure your condition is not due to or made worse by a physical disorder can be a good step. Many illnesses can affect mood, concentration and so forth. Some conditions (e.g., depression or severe anxiety) require treatment with medication. The therapist should refer you to a psychiatrist for a medication consultation, if your condition warrants.
How do I know when I am done with counseling?
Give therapy a chance. Consider the first couple of months as a trial period. It usually takes at least that long to experience progress, depending on your problems and issues. Progress is usually inhibited by changing from one counselor to another frequently. In considering when to discontinue treatment, ask yourself whether the problems that caused you to seek counseling have been resolved and whether any additional problems or issues have come to your attention that you may wish to resolve. Also consider the advice of your counselor. A frank discussion of the advisability of terminating treatment is usually useful. Remember that no decision about counseling or psychotherapy is irrevocable. While you may seek advice from others, decisions to begin and end treatment and the choice of counselor are yours alone.
If I think my friend needs help, how do I get him or her to come in and see a counselor?
It can be very difficult when someone you care about is in pain. You might find yourself feeling helpless, frightened, frustrated or angry. It is very hard to make a person seek help if they don’t want to or don’t feel they need it, and counseling with an unwilling client is usually not very effective. Here are some things you might offer as a friend:
Let your friend know that you are concerned. Suggest that he or she make an appointment with a counselor to see if we can be of help. Try to phrase the communication using “I’ language, rather than “you” language. For example, “I care about you and I am sad to see you are hurting” rather than “You are in trouble and need help.”
Offer to sit with your friend while he/she makes an appointment.
Offer to accompany your friend to their first appointment, and either wait in the waiting area or go to the appointment with him/her.
Call or come into the counseling center yourself, and talk with a counselor about your worries about your friend. You will not need to tell the counselor your friend’s name, and you do not necessarily even need to let your friend know you came in. The counselor may be able to offer you suggestions about how to interact more effectively with this friend, as well as to manage your own feelings about the situation.
Surf the web or the bookstore for information about your friend’s problem(s), and pass it along to your friend. Invite him/her to compare reactions with you about the information, or talk about the information with a counselor.
However, remember that you cannot force anyone to get help, you can only encourage, support and offer resources. If you find yourself becoming too involved or your friend’s problems are overwhelming you and affecting your life or work negatively, please contact the counseling center for a consultation and for your own support.
Questions I Might Ask You:
What brings you here?
“It seems like you know yourself pretty well and have thought a bunch about what you would like to talk about here. People who show up here have courage galore, perhaps even a tad bit of exasperation. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you some questions, and take notes about what you say so I can keep it fresh in my memory. Oh, and feel free to interrupt me at any time or steer the conversation to where you need it to go. In your mind, what brings you here today?”
Have you ever seen a counselor before?
“You seem pretty comfortable and confident coming in here and talking about the challenges in your life. Have you ever seen a counselor before? If so, how many meetings did you attend and for what issues? Did you achieve the results you sought, and did your results ‘stick?’ What one thing do you remember most that your previous counselor/psychologist/social worker told you? What went right, or what didn’t turn out the way you would have liked it to?”
What is the problem from your viewpoint?
“Everyone has a different perspective on what the problem is, and who or what the solution is. The point of counseling is to create positive changes as rapidly as possible without feeling hurried. How do you see the problem or how do you define it? Which difficult people in your life are causing problems for you? How do you get along with people at work? How would you describe your personality? What are three of your biggest life accomplishments? Who or what is most important to you in your life? What is the problem from your viewpoint?”
How does this problem typically make you feel?
“We all have problems or challenges that we must face. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? How do you feel when a problem pops up unexpectedly? Although feelings aren’t right or wrong, good or bad, every problem has a way of making us feel one way or another. So, how does this problem typically make you feel? Do you feel sad, mad, hopeless, stuck or what?”
What makes the problem better?
“How often do you experience the problem? What do you think causes the problem to worsen? Have you ever not had the problem or noticed that the problem went away altogether? Have you tried certain tools, read books or pursued avenues in the past that have worked well to solve the problem? How does the problem affect your self-esteem or your sense of guilt?”
If you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life?
“Setting goals creates focus. Do you regularly set positive goals for your work life, love life and fun life? What is your attitude about change? What are your positive change goals? How would you like to improve your life to be more satisfied and happy? If we can find ways to make the problem better, perhaps we can find ways to greatly reduce or even eliminate the problem.”
Overall, how would you describe your mood?
“Moods come and go like the weather. Some of us are moodier than others or pick up someone else’s mood like a cold. Still others are pretty thick-skinned about emotional events. In your case, what makes you feel anxious? Is your mood like a roller coaster, or is it pretty steady? What brings you down or makes you feel blue? What’s guaranteed to make you feel up? How do you get yourself out of a bad mood? Do you use drugs, alcohol, sex, money, or other ‘mood soothers’ to make you feel better? What have people close to you told you about your moods?”
What do you expect from the counseling process?
“Everyone who comes here expects something different. I believe you are paying me to help you achieve your positive goals as quickly as possible. Some people like to receive homework, some clients like to vent and have me listen, and others want a high level of interaction. How do you think you learn best? Do you think of me as your communications and relationships coach? What do you expect from the counseling process? How many meetings do you think it will take to achieve your goals? How might you undermine achieving your own goals? Do you blame anyone for your problem? Do you use good advice to grow on? How will you know when we are done?”
What would it take to make you feel more content, happier and more satisfied?
“On a scale of 0-10, how content are you with your life? What keeps happening repeatedly that frustrates you? What do people keep doing that you dislike, and what do you wish they would change? How do you typically handle irritations, aggravations and frustrations? Do you get mad easily? How does your anger come out? What baggage or resentments do you carry from the past? What wrongs have been done to you that you haven’t forgiven? What changes could someone make that would really make you happy? What has been a major life disappointment? Do you feel mad when you don’t get your way or lose control? Who is pulling your strings, and why?”
Do you consider yourself to have a low, average or high interpersonal IQ?
“Would you rate your communication skills as negative, neutral or positive? How well do you get along with your life partner? Do you love your life partner? What positive relationship rules do you follow? How would you describe your relationship with your kids or grandkids? Do you get along with your siblings? How would you best describe your relationship with your parents? What family conflicts have you been embroiled in recently? What relationship have you been in that you judged to be a failure? Who do you call upon when your heart is hurting to mentor you? Have you put time and money into improving your communication skills lately? What is your biggest vulnerability or Achilles heel in relationships?”