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Top 5 things to know BEFORE you start professional counseling.

Updated on April 29, 2009

Wait . . . Don't call a counselor yet!

Whether you are thinking about seeking help from a professional counselor or therapist or are currently in therapy here are some things you should know before you begin.

If you're like me, you want to feel like you know what you're doing even before you pick up the phone to do it! That's what I hope this lens will help to accomplish.

1. Counseling is Just for People in Crisis....Right?

Wrong! Counseling is not just for people who are experiencing a crisis either in a relationship or personally. Of course, that's when most people call for an appointment with a therapist, but there are other useful benefits of counseling that are not crisis or urgent situations. In fact, if you can seek out the help of a therapist before you reach the crisis mode you will be much better off!

There are many ways professional counseling can be utilized that don't involved crisis situations. Marriage enrichment ("we just want to help our marriage grow") and pre-marital counseling ("let's make sure we understand each other before the wedding") are two examples of non-crisis situations.

2. Your Therapist Will Not Fix You.

Sorry, no super powers here!

I have felt that some people enter counseling with the mistaken notion that their therapist will cure all that ails them without any work on their part. Fortunately, for the therapist, that is not the case.

The therapist's job is not to tell their clients what to do, nor do they have a magic wand to wave away all relationship problems or personal issues. Rather, the counselor is there to help their clients come to their own decision based on what has been discussed in the sessions and the progress the client has made. It is also not the counselor's job to "fix" their clients. It is the client's responsibility to work on their own issues with the therapist's guidance and listening ear.

The hard work is up to the client. Meeting with a counselor can help a client to explore issues, make decisions, gain understanding about personal and relationship issues, but it's the client doing the real work.

3. Homework is Not Just For Schoolkids.

Many therapists assign various forms of homework to their clients. Homework is not just busywork, it is intended to help you work on the skills and make the personal progress you desire. It's a part of the "hard work" that I mentioned in #2.

Homework could be any of a number of things and each therapist will have a different view of homework. It could include: Bibliotherapy (meaning reading books, or other helpful materials), various types of journaling exercises, assessments, art projects, or practicing new skills (after they have been learned in session) at home.

4. It'll just take a couple of sessions and I'll be fixed, right?

How long will this last?

Another question that seems to be lingering in clients' minds is that of time commitment. How many sessions will I need? How often should I come? Will this take a long time? Most of these questions, and other similar ones can only be answered after therapy has been begun. Until a therapist has an idea of what the concern is it's difficult to grab a length of time out of their hat and say "We'll have you out of here in 2 sessions max!" Sorry, but I doubt that's going to happen.

Depending on the complexity of your situation, the modalities used by the therapist, finances, and just plain life, the length of time in therapy can vary widely. The length of time spent in therapy is a joint decision between the therapist and the client.

Sometimes, if the client is relying on insurance or an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) there may be a limit to how many sessions will be paid for. Aside from insurance, the length of therapy depends greatly on the depth of the concerns that brought the client into the office and how quickly or slowly the client makes progress. Hopefully, therapy will end when both the client and therapist feel the client is ready. This could be anywhere from a few sessions to several months or more in serious situations.


Have you ever been in counseling for any reason?

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5. I'm Not Sure I Like This.

I just can't tell you I don't like you....

If you decide to enter into a therapeutic relationship with a professional counselor you need to know that it's okay to talk with them about your professional relationship with them. At times, clients get into therapy only to find they have a personality conflict or other frustration with their counselor or with the way the therapy is progressing.

A quality professional counselor will meet these concerns with grace and be open to discussing what can be done to improve the relationship.

If, after discussing these professional concerns with your therapist you are still unsatisfied, there is no harm in choosing to seek a referral to another qualified counselor. If you can be candid with your therapist and tell them why you are leaving that is much appreciated!

Caveat: If you find yourself skipping from counselor to counselor and having difficulty finding one that suits you, it's time to take a long look at yourself! Why am I unsatisfied? What am I really looking for that I can't seem to find?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I can't tell you how important it is for people to know these things beforehand. The first time I went to therapy, I didn't know any of these and I had a horrible experience. But because of I was aware of them, when I went back later things went better. Your first tip is especially important. Even when you are feeling "fine," you're less likely to go into crisis if you maintain your counseling. I learned this when my husband and I attended marriage counseling in Manhattan.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for your post. I've been considering some counseling lately and I just wanted to fin some information before I actually started going. So again, thank you!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Fantastic....thanks shairng!!!


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Good info for someone thinking about starting counseling - I started a similar lens, would love your feedback. Want to link? I am giving you 5*

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Good info you have provided here :) I have lensrolled you.

    • ShortStuffsSecr profile image


      9 years ago

      Wonderful lens! I am just starting out on my counseling career, but I think this is great information for those seeking therapy. There are still so many misconceptions about what our profession entails.

    • Natalie W Schorr profile image

      Natalie W Schorr 

      9 years ago

      Counseling must be an enormously stressful job! A combination of people who really need help through awful, painful situations, and whiners who come week after week with the same petty issues. [Not that I'd know anything about that...] You've written an excellent guide. 5*

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      10 years ago

      I have done counseling for years, and so many people wait until the crisis when it is ofter too late, especially couples. Good list

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This definitely is good way to think about before starting. It's been great you share this thought for those who don't know where to begin, we'll I hope you read this post. I'm including you on my favorites to extend your lens. 5 stars for you. great lens.

      For those who needed counseling, they can check out my lens, too.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great job on dispelling the myths about counseling. Thank you for sharing this. Please consider seeing how I help people too:

      Sincerely: Gary Eby, author and therapist

    • Webcodes LM profile image

      Webcodes LM 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for the info. I think most people go expecting a cure for all that ails them. 5*, I hope you can visit my lenses.


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