Counseling 101: Part Two

In my initial blog about counseling, titled Counseling 101: Questions You Want Answered…But May be Afraid to Ask, I answer various questions, including:

  • What is counseling?
  • Why do people go to counseling?
  • Can I go if I don’t have a problem?
  • How long should I go?
  • What are the benefits?

While there will certainly be some overlap between the two posts, the intention of this blog is to delve deeper into the world of counseling and to give more insight and answer more questions that people may have.

What is Counseling?  

While counseling looks different (based on the type of counseling you go to–see question below), it is a collaborative effort between a counselor and client.  People who seek counseling do so for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to: seeking guidance for challenging situations (both past and present), improve communication skills and coping skills, increase self-esteem, and promote self-awareness and optimal mental health.

Types of Counseling  
  • Individual counseling is personal opportunity to receive support and experience growth during challenging times in life, although you don’t have to be experiencing something challenging to go to counseling.
    • Individual therapy is a great resource for anyone ages 3+.  Yes–you read that right. Children as young as 3 can be in counseling.  Check out more about play therapy.  Many adolescents and adults are in individual therapy, too.  Personal topics that might be addressed include: depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, parenting problems, school difficulties, etc.  There is no right/wrong reason for seeking individual therapy.
  • Couples counseling…because relationships can be (and often are) tough!
    • Couples counseling can include the following (and then some): premarital counseling, assistance with communication, re-connection, discernment, etc.
  • Family counseling often helps families navigate life changes or stress that is negatively impacting family closeness, family structure (rules and roles), and/or communication.
    • While each family therapy session will be different, sometimes it is best practice for all family members to meet together for sessions; sometimes it will be best to meet with family members individually first, though, to make sure family therapy sessions are effective.  It all varies from family-to-family and session-to-session.
  • Group counseling allows participants to be in a group (with an overarching theme) and helps people find connection with others in their particular life challenge(s).
    • Common group topics might include: anger management, self-esteem, recovery, trauma, etc.  No group is the same.
What About My Therapist?  

Finding the right therapist is KEY–it’s all about finding someone who is a right fit.  Different things people often find important when seeking a therapist include:

  • Therapist Demographics
    • Age, Gender, Culture/Ethnicity, etc.
  • Style of therapy
  • Specialties
  • Background information

What happens if you see a therapist and something just feels off?  This is a great opportunity to advocate for yourself and tell the therapist that something just didn’t feel like the right fit.  This is about YOU (not them). They won’t be offended by it…and chances are, they’ll have some recommendations for you for other clinicians to reach out to.  Hopefully with some research of your own, though, you’ll find someone that you will click with.

What do all those letters mean?  

Licensed Professional Counselor

  • LPC-S
    • If someone has this license, they are licensed as a supervisor and will have interns (see below) work with them throughout their licensure process.
  • LPC
  • LPC-Intern
    • If someone has this license, it does not mean they are an intern (in the general sense we think of interns).  People with the LPC-I licensure are provisionally licensed and are working under a supervisor (an LPC-S) towards full licensure.

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

  • LMFT-S
    • If someone has this license, they are licensed as a supervisor and will have associates (see below) work with them throughout their licensure process.
  • LMFT
  • LMFT-A
    • If someone has this license, they are a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist-Associate.  They are provisionally licensed and are working under a supervisor (an LMFT-S) towards full licensure.

Social Workers

  • LCSW-S
    • If someone has this license, they are a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and will have LMSWs (see below) work with them throughout their licensure process.
  • LCSW
  • LMSW
    • If someone has this license, they are a Licensed Master Social Worker.  They are working under a supervisor (an LCSW-S) towards full licensure.

At the end of the day, the difference in these licensures is a result of different master’s programs and classes taken.

A Little About Logistics

Generally counseling sessions last 50 minutes long (although, if needed, you can book an 80 minute session).  When you are beginning counseling, it is best to go on a weekly basis until you and your counselor agree that less sessions are needed.  Think of counseling like going to the gym–consistency is key! In order to see results from exercising, you must go regularly. Counseling is no different.  Additionally, I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked “How long will this take?” or “How many sessions is normal?”  Unfortunately, that’s a question with no concrete answer.  I will say, however, if you seek counseling and believe, “Oh, I’ll just go for a month and things will be resolved by then”…chances are, you’re probably wrong.

Let’s Talk Fees

There are two main options when it comes to paying for therapy.  Austin Family Counseling is a private-pay only counseling office so I’m biased towards private pay, however, I think it’s only fair to list pros and cons of each.

Private Pay

  • Pros
    • There is an unlimited number of sessions you can book with you and your therapist.  This ultimately leads to more flexibility when booking sessions, too.
    • Things truly stay between you and your therapist (with a few limits of confidentiality–should those situations arise–if you have questions about this, feel free to ask!)
    • You do not have to be given a diagnosis.
  • Cons
    • Going to therapy weekly and paying someone’s full fee is expensive.

Insurance

  • Pros
    • Using insurance is more affordable.
  • Cons
      • When a clinician uses your insurance to pay for therapy, you are required to be given a diagnosis–this justifies your reason for services and often dictates the number of sessions you are allowed to have.
      • Insurance coverage may change and you are not notified–so while you have great mental health coverage now, it may not always be the case.
      • Earlier I mentioned the importance and value of finding a therapist that you click with–it is not uncommon for therapists to eventually stop using insurance.
      • Certain types of therapy may not be covered by your insurance provider/plan.

 

Ultimately, counseling can be expensive–it is an investment, after all, but when it is something that promotes self-growth and connection, it is certainly worth it.  If you find a therapist you think would be a great fit, however, they do not accept your insurance or you cannot afford their fee, ask them if they are able to provide fees at a sliding scale.  They may not be able to accommodate that (so know that going in), but it never hurts to ask. Additionally, another potential option is using a superbill. If you have insurance and your provider will honor superbills, they allow you to be partially (or even fully) reimbursed for counseling sessions.  You must pay for the session in full initially, but there is potential for reimbursement–you must call your provider to see if they will honor superbills, though.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments–reach out!  I would love to hear from you.

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Susan Gonzales, LPC-S

 

 

 


Family Connection

Today the average family is busier than ever before. There are conference calls, soccer practice, gymnastics, work, school and tons of others. Many families eat dinner on the fly. Breakfast is something popped into the microwave and then run out the door. Electronics tend to be in use most of the day in some way or another. With such busy schedules I am not suggesting you must sit at the table every night and have a home cooked meal and sit together to talk. Parents and children rarely have time for that. What I am suggesting is that one evening, afternoon or breakfast a week is set aside for family members to sit and talk. So much can be achieved for the family by doing this. Family time also adds other benefits to family members.

First, family time helps to build strong bonds between family members.

Family members need contact with each other. It helps to form more secure children who grow up to be more mature adults. Having that contact between individuals also allows for sharing. Do you remember 20 to 30 years ago having family meal or family night was a normal part of being in a family? There would possibly be a special meal, play a game or watch a movie. Family night might not have always worked for all kids (teens tend to balk at family night at some point). But family night also added to the security that the parents cared and siblings wanted to play and hang out with you.

Second, family time creates stability and safety in the family.

Spending time together helps children to feel safer and more stable. Children get to connect on a more personal level when all members of the family are together in one place. So many skills can be strengthened during family time. Children can work on coping skills, communication skills, and regulation (learning to manage their emotions). Through listening to others talk, children can learn patience, manners and learn to empathize with the other family members. Children can become aware of the issues that might be happening to the family. Regular family night helps with the schedule; children know it is coming usually on the same night each week.

Third, family time can help parents know what is going on with their children.

Sitting with your children, when you get a chance, and taking the time to listen to what your child can say can be revealing. We often move so fast today that we miss those opportunities to really engage with our children on a different level. When was the last time you could just sit and talk to your child and be easy with it. You don’t have the concerns of making dinner, picking up a kid, chores, telecommuting. It takes time to sit with your child. If it is scheduled weekly, then your child knows she/he has a special time each week. I encourage parents to make time for each child one on one. Have this time be regular in the family, barring injury or illness, and do not schedule other things at the same time. Keep this time sacred to the family. This can be very hard to do in the beginning. The average family has such a huge schedule and obligations picking a time each week that when the family can come together can be challenging.

I often describe electronics and kids as an addiction.The more children stay on electronics (phones, iPod, kindles, iPad, etc.) the more that they want. Electronics has affected the way children learn, interact and create social networks. Kids can be friends with someone they don’t even know from across the country (don’t get me started on the dangers of electronics as that is a topic for a different blog). It is hard for many parents to get their kids “unplugged” during the day. It can be even harder to keep the children off the electronics. One thing to think about when your child spends a lot of time on electronics is, is your child getting rewarded in their rewards center in the brain? With all the pictures, games and videos children don’t need to work for anything. It is continually downloaded to their brains.

Have you ever had the problem of trying to get your kid off his electronics and find that he/she behaves poorly, making inappropriate statements, having trouble controlling the feelings, and in general not interested in what you need from them? This is all due to the reward center issue. On the electronics kids don’t have to work. In the real-world kids have to engage many skills to interact with others. Speaking takes time, trying to find their place in a conversation can be hard, keeping patient can be hard. All these skills are circumvented when playing on electronics. I always encourage time during the day without electronics.

Finally, family time is a great time to catch up, update schedules, figure out what is needed for the week.

Family can schedule events for the week and work out who will go where to meet these obligations. For example, Mom is working late on Tuesday so Dad will take kids to soccer. Family time is a time to sit with your kids, talk about their week, see what successes or challenges they have had. Each child can put into the conversation so everyone learns more about each other. Children can bring concerns into the meeting as well. I encourage parents that have regular family time to put a sheet of paper on the fridge titled “Topics for Family Meeting”. Then, throughout the week issues can be listed. It gives kids a sense of additional regulation because most situations don’t need to be addressed that moment. If it is scheduled for the family time/meeting, then a child knows it will be addressed and coming back to it later gives each party a chance to calm.

Finding time to be together in a family can make a huge difference to your family. Members can feel connected to each other in a way that has not happened before. Everyone will have a chance to use their voice to express what they need. Children learn so many skills being with the whole family. Self-regulation is a huge one. Every skill children are using will relate to experiences outside the family. Knowing that there is a scheduled time to spend one on one with a parent can build a child’s self esteem. The rewards of family time will echo throughout the week. It isn’t easy to start, but once it becomes a regular thing in the family, everyone can get on board with it.

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S


Why Is Therapy Important?

There could be an entire series of books written about why therapy is important. For the sake of time and interest let’s start with some basics; therapy provides a safe space both physically and emotionally, it helps establish a genuine human connection, it can offer you the opportunity to identify your potential, and most importantly therapy is your time to be heard.

It can be challenging to disclose personal information when you are physically tense and uncomfortable. My hope as a therapist, for my office, is to provide a calm and serene environment. It is a physical space that is separate from the chaos of the outside world. When you walk into your therapist’s office, you are not just walking into an office but walking out of the chaos and into order. The office is often dimly lit, smells of calming essential oils, decorated with calming intent, and of course a comfy couch with an assortment of pillows. If you are lucky, there might even be candy. A tranquil office is the first step in fostering a feeling of safety and security.

As human beings, we crave human connection. This is the reason that many of us are addicted to social media (more on this in another post). Human connection is a driving force in our lives; it is the feeling you get when your partner acknowledges a sacrifice you made for the relationship. It is grabbing a beer with a friend after work so that you can vent about the past week. Alternatively, that tiny tear you shed and the fuzzy feeling in your stomach when you watch a romantic comedy at the movies. Unfortunately, many of us do not experience genuine human connection regularly; it might be that you’re lonely and that loneliness drives you to seek seclusion from the rest of the world. It may be the case that you were never taught to have a genuine connection with another person (this is more common than you would think). Therapy is your time to be heard; it is a chance for your therapist to show your capacity for genuine relationships and help you realize your potential for that connection.

What is your potential? I am not sure if I can adequately answer this question, it might be a good question to ask your therapist. Nonetheless, I will give it my best shot. Let us start with the idea that potential is the full capabilities of our future self. First of all, we need to know our present self before we can identify what we are capable of in the future. Ah Ha! Another question for your therapist. Who am I? (this question is also more common than you might think) I believe that by examining our past, including achievements and successes, we can help define who we are presently thus allowing us to map out a future ideal for ourselves. I do not believe I gave sufficient thought to the idea of potential, however, for this post, this explanation should suffice. (I plan to expound on this idea in the future)

You might have heard someone describe therapy as, “I pay some guy to listen to me to talk” and that’s not too far from the truth. The keyword in there is listen; it is astonishing how little time we spend listening to one another. How often do you find yourself waiting to talk rather than listening to someone? I imagine pretty often. Listening is a skill that takes a tremendous amount of effort. To give a person your undivided attention is near to impossible. Not only is almost no one good at it… this world isn’t good at giving us space for it. Therapy is that space. For the hour that you are in therapy, you are the center of our focus. You are what matters most. To be honestly heard is a gift worth giving, maybe consider giving a therapist the opportunity to show you what it is to have someone listen to you with empathy and understanding.

By: Josh Killam, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Michelle Hawn, LPC-S


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