How do you determine if you or your family needs to pursue counseling?

Life is filled with a wide range of challenges. No one is exempt from experiencing stress, crisis, or trauma. This is especially true for those in a helping profession such as law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency services. As people go through the different stages of the life cycle, certain periods may be more difficult than others. Therapists and counselors are trained to assist individuals and families in dealing with issues that have not been resolved. Unresolved issues can affect the emotional and mental health of those involved. Ideally, therapists and counselors want to provide services for clients which lead to emotional healing and mental health. This benefits not only the individual but their family as well.

Making the decision to meet with a Mental Health Professional (MHP) such as a therapist or counselor can be a difficult decision for anyone to make. If you are entertaining the idea of meeting with a MHP, it is more than likely a good time to contemplate your current situation. You may be considering meeting a MHP by yourself, with your partner, or other family members. Either way, improving emotional and mental health can be beneficial to individuals, couples, and families.

Many people avoid counseling as if it were a disease or see it as a position of weakness. The truth is that therapists and counselors can be effective at helping you sort through any issues that are challenging for you or your family. If you or a family member were in physical pain for more than a few days, you would likely visit a doctor. Emotional and mental health are equally as important. Counseling can be of real benefit, providing help for a wide range of problems such as depression, anxiety, emotional distress, post traumatic stress disorder, relationship issues, family problems, addiction, stress management, or grief and loss. It can also fulfill aspirations for personal growth or self-improvement. Recognizing the need for professional help is a good first step towards healing. Counseling has clear and definite purpose, which is to restore the health and well-being of you or your family.

How do you choose a therapist or counselor?

There are numerous resources that can be used to find a Mental Health Professional that you feel comfortable with. If you are able to discuss your issues with others, referrals from family or friends is always ideal. Your primary physician may have a list of MHP’s that they are affiliated with or may have specific recommendations. Insurance companies may also have a list of professionals that are part of the company’s network. If you have health insurance you may want to research what mental health services are covered.

Finding the right therapist or counselor depends on your specific needs. It may be beneficial to speak with a MHP by phone before setting up an appointment. After talking with several counselors you may realize that you feel more comfortable with one more than the others. Be patient, it may take a little time to find the MHP that is right for you.  Here are some questions you may want to ask when choosing a counselor:

  • Are you a licensed Mental Health Professional?
  • What are your areas of expertise?
  • What is your perspective on change or healing?
  • What, if any, insurance companies do you work with? 
  • If my insurance does not cover your services what are your fees?
  • What days of the week and hours are you available to take appointments?
  • What if I have to cancel an appointment, do you have a cancellation policy?
  • What if I miss an appointment, will I still get charged?
  • How far in advance do I need to make an appointment?
  • How often would we meet and how long does a counseling session last?

When you feel confident that a particular therapist or counselor meets your needs, you are ready to make an appointment. During your first meeting with the counselor evaluate how you feel about their ability to attend to you or your family’s issues. Therapy is more than problem solving. It is about developing a strong relationship between you or your family and the counselor. This is crucial in sharing mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual life struggles and issues affecting the quality of counseling outcomes. If you find that therapy is not working, consider trying another therapist or counselor.

What can you expect from a therapist or counselor?

Mental Health Professionals such as therapists or counselors should be knowledgeable, professional, and competent. They should provide a safe, warm environment where issues can be discussed confidentially. They should listen, ask questions, and make assessments. They should offer suggestions and provide resources. Therapists and counselors should also describe a treatment plan including the expected number of sessions that will be needed. While it is important that they are flexible and approachable, they also need to maintain appropriate boundaries.

What are the outcomes of counseling?

The outcomes of counseling can vary, but it is important to know that sometimes you get worse before you get better. Successful counseling requires the active participation and effort of the counselor, you, and/or your family. No matter what suggestions or treatments are made available, it is important for those involved to implement the practices in to their daily life to achieve results. Counselors are agents for change but it is your choice to enact change. 


Those who work in helping professions often loose sight of their own vulnerabilities due to their exposure to the negativities of life. There is the tendency to cope with traumatic issues in solitude blinding them from their own need for help. Counseling can be a helpful resource in building resilience against mental health issues and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Created by Janet Kelson, LMFT and LeAnne Renteria, CFLE
September 30th, 2008