Frequently (un) Asked Questions
What is the counselor’s area of interest, training, and experience?
If you are looking for someone who has extensive experience in marital work, then choosing a counselor whose primary experience and interest in play therapy may not be a good fit, for instance. If you are not sure what the counselor’s area of experience, training, interest, paradigm (how the counselor believes change happens)……please ask. It is much better to find out before you make a commitment rather than afterwards and then have to begin over with someone else.
What is the counselor’s spiritual beliefs? Do I feel like he/she would respect mine?
Of the two, the more important value is the second one. Do you sense that the counselor will respect where you are coming from, value your life experience and honor your spiritual preferences, even if they are not his/her own? Do you think that you could work with someone who shared different spiritual values than you do?
Counselors should not be in the business to promote their own beliefs to clients, but their beliefs do shape who they are and how they view the world and how they view emotional health. It is important to find someone who can incorporate who you are with how they view the process towards reaching your goals.
Do I get along with this person?
Probably the most underrated quality in looking for a counselor, but it is also one of the most important. Your counselor will likely take on different roles during the course of working together. Roles such as confidant, coach, teacher, mentor, parent, and accountability partner are common. Because of this, it is important to find someone whom you genuinely connect with, whose opinion you respect and someone with whom you feel naturally comfortable with sharing the more private details of your life. (The same principle holds true for the counselor. Are you someone with whom he/she naturally works well? Are you someone for whom they have compassion and a desire to see you reach your goals?)
Is it okay to be a Christian who struggles?
Jesus told us in advance that we would have trouble, that life would be hard. He warned his disciples that if the enemy went after him, then they should also expect to be targets. As a result, there is no shame in struggling with life. Somehow we have developed a mentality that if we were truly mature, then we would not struggle. This has only succeeded in keeping many who struggle privately too ashamed to ask for help. Paul wrote at the end of his life that he had been faithful in “fighting the good fight.” One does not “fight” without struggling. And if you need to have someone walk along side of you for a season, is that not the body of Christ working together as Jesus designed it?
What is therapy like?
In some ways, good therapy is like a dance. Someone leads and the other person complements. Your counselor should be trained to understand the intricacies of relationships on a variety of levels, trained to be able to assess for psychological disorders (and make the appropriate medical referrals), and have some idea of how to gently lead you to reach your therapeutic goals. Many times, however, it is not so much the training that determines the quality of the dance, but the quality of the relationship that is forged between you and your counselor. As you explore your issues, you may be disclosing very private, very intimate details of your life as you search for ways to manage/resolve crisis, change unwanted behaviors, or develop new maturity. At the core, therapy is synonymous with challenge. Good therapy, like good theology, will challenge us to grow to become more like Christ. Unfortunately, God did not design us to simply evolve into health and maturity. He designed us to constantly be confronted with the realization of our sinfulness and our need to adopt his way of doing things in order to more fully reveal the power of his salvation within us.
As far as the content of the sessions, that depends upon you and your counselor. Most counselors take some kind of notes in order to keep a record of what you are working on, and also to be able to track your successes. These notes are confidential and are exempt from any mandatory disclosure, except by court order. Your counselor may or may not elect to offer to show you the notes.
The first few sessions are usually dedicated to the two of you getting to know each other, finding out more of the details of what is going on and making any necessary, appropriate referrals (i.e.: for a medical assessment, or a specialist). As time progresses, however, the individual personality of the counselor, the issues you are working on and the counselor’s approach to reaching your goals determines more of the style of therapy into which you will be entering.
Something to think about is the time commitment between sessions. Generally, a session will last 50-60 minutes. That is approximately one (1) hour of the 168 hours there are in a week. Nothing magical happens in session. It is the work in session, combined with an extensive commitment to think about these issues, or to work on homework, or to practice new skills, which produces the most hope for long-term transformation. As someone once said, counseling is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you are willing to invest, the more likely you will reap from it.