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Counseling Center

A Guide to the Counseling Experience

How Do I Know If I Should Talk To A Therapist?

At times, everyone feels stressed out, depressed, angry, anxious, or confused. Sometimes, a good friend or a relative can help. However, there are times when these problems do not go away or they become too overwhelming. These are the times when one should seek professional help or psychotherapy.

If you or someone you know has been:

  • Drinking too much or taking drugs
  • Eating or sleeping differently
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Having dramatic mood swings
  • So anxious, afraid, or depressed that everyday activities and relationships with other have been affected
  • Performing poorly at work or school
  • Physically, sexually, or emotional abused by others
  • Suffering from low self-esteem
  • Experiencing conflictual relationships with family, friends, co-workers, or significant others
  • Having reactions to an event that are in excess of what might be expectable
  • Experiencing a crisis or stressful event, like a death in the family, divorce, or break-up of a relationship
  • Thinking about suicide

Then talking to a therapist may be indicated.

What Is Therapy?

Psychotherapy is a process where someone seeks help for problems of an emotional nature from a trained professional. By establishing a positive, trusting relationship, the professional will try to help the individual cope with the problem, mature and grow, and learn about himself or herself.

There Are So Many Different Types Of Therapists. I Get Confused. What Are The Differences?

There are several types of professionals who may help people with personal problems.

Psychologists have a doctorate (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) in psychology. They undergo at least four years of training and education in research, human behavioral theories, and therapeutic techniques. In addition to therapy or counseling, they are the mental health professionals that specialize in the administration of psychological tests and assessments and carry out psychological research.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors. They attend medical school and complete a three to five year psychiatric residency. Their ability to assess the need for and prescribe medication for anxiety, depression, and other problems sets them apart from other mental health professionals.

Social workers have a Master’s degree in social work (MSW or CSW), which entails two years of education and training. Their knowledge of social support systems, organizations, and groups (e.g. recreation and welfare agencies) and how they may meet a person’s psychological needs is a distinguishing characteristic.

Counselors are therapists who have advanced degrees (e.g. Master’s degrees) in counseling, nursing, psychology, or guidance. Some may also have specialized training in particular areas, like Certified Alcohol Counselors (CAC). 

All of these professionals have their own professional organizations and their own requirements for certification or licensure.

There Are Also So Many Types Of Therapy. How Are They Different?

People can seek help from a therapist by themselves (one-on-one therapy or individual therapy), in a group led by a therapist (group therapy), with their families (family therapy) or spouses (marital or couples therapy). A self-help group is a special type of group in which there is usually no professional leader and where members share experiences with others in the same position or circumstances.

Psychodynamic or Psychoanalytically-Oriented Therapy has its roots in psychoanalysis but is shorter in duration and number of sessions per week. Again, there are many different approaches within this type of therapy but the underlying thrust is to examine past experiences and their contribution to patterns in present relationships and behavior. It is believed that the past and present are connected and that understanding the past helps ameliorate present difficulties. This approach may be best for people experiencing problems in relationships or with more diffuse or less specific discomforts or complaints.

Behavioral Therapy targets specific symptoms. The therapist usually proposes actions to decrease those symptoms. This approach is probably best in treating phobias and habits like smoking.

Cognitive Therapy focuses on distorted thinking which may get in the way of someone’s functioning. The goal is to help people change their way of thinking by recognizing and correcting faulty logic. This, in turn, should have a positive effect on their behavior.

Most therapists tend to work by combining or borrowing from several different approaches to best fit the needs of particular individuals.

Therapy can be one or more times weekly and can last from several sessions to one or more years. This depends on the goals set together by the therapist and the individual, as well as the severity of the problem.

A Few Final Words

It is widely held that, when one is experiencing difficulties, therapy can be helpful. In addition, no one type of therapy has been found to be better than another.

It is important to remember that therapy takes commitment, hard work, and time. It is best not to judge your therapy by the way you are feeling in the moment. Therapy is not magic. It is a collaborative effort between the therapist and an active and motivated participant.

If you are in therapy and notice certain feelings, reactions or concerns about the therapist or the therapy work, know that you can share and discuss all of this with your therapist. Often, this exploration can  enrich, broaden and deepen the therapy experience.

Hopefully, in addition to helping solve or ease the problem at hand, therapy provides a person with tools to better deal with difficult issues which may arise even after the therapy has ended.

Pace Students: In Their Own Words

How would you describe your experience of therapy? What is therapy to you?

"Therapy does different things. It grounded me. I felt confused and lost. Therapy provided support and focus. It also provided me with the opportunity to talk, get feedback, suggestions, another perspective, and support."

"It’s nice to have someone there just to listen to you."

"I came at my wits end. Afraid of everything. Hoping that someone could help. The experience has been marvelous. There is no comparison. I think it was the right decision for me."

"At first I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my problems. Then I discovered that it really does help…how much talking can heal."

"When you start therapy you are traveling on a very narrow road. You have blinders on and are unable to move your head from side to side. Therapy gives you wider vision, a broader perspective. You are better able to drive the car."