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Even if you’ve never been in counseling, you’ve probably seen a dramatized session on a television show or in a movie. In those cases, the client is generally someone working through a traumatic experience. But that’s not the only way to approach therapy (a term used interchangeably in this piece with “counseling”).

In this installment, veteran licensed psychotherapist Maureen O’Connell addresses common misconceptions about counseling, including who might benefit from therapy, what going to counseling says about you as a person, and how to pursue mental health from a proactive perspective rather than in reactive mode during a crisis. Verily previously addressed the differences between various kinds of mental health professionals such as coaches and counselors and how each can be helpful.

01. You don’t have to be in crisis mode to benefit from counseling.

“People come to therapy for many reasons besides trauma or a crisis. So often people need help understanding more about their relationship patterns that stem from family of origin issues, not necessarily trauma or abuse,” Maureen observes. “In therapy, people have the opportunity to explore connections between the past and current unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. I have seen people’s lives and relationships transformed by gaining insight into themselves and learning how to have healthy boundaries in all areas of life.”

02. Counseling is one aspect of normal preventive care.

Maureen believes that everyone could benefit from some amount of therapy. As a society, we understand the value of being proactive in other areas of life, taking care of our bodies through mindful eating, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene. Similarly, she says, “It’s important to take care of the mind.” Working with a therapist introduces an objective outsider’s professionally-trained perspective and assistance to more healthily approach thorny relationships, which are often years in the making, especially amongst family members.

She also notes that many of us spend our lives primarily on autopilot rather than in self-aware mode, especially when it comes to our emotions. Perhaps we self-soothe with social media or shopping when we start to feel emotionally uncomfortable. Therapy teaches self-awareness, so that we can become aware of and curious about the emotions we experience on a regular basis (for example, “I’m feeling uncomfortable. What might I be feeling?”), name them (“I’m feeling angry, disappointed, frustrated”), and then articulate what they are to know when to take a break or set a boundary (“I’m frustrated by this person frequently showing up late when we get together. I’m going to let them know that I have a set amount of time to meet, politely tell them when it’s time for me to go, and then follow through by leaving when I say I will.”)

03. Counseling doesn’t have to be forever.

Many expect that counseling will be long-term, lasting a year or more, but a majority of Maureen’s clients work with her for a shorter time frame, some as little as three months. Furthermore, if an individual is coming as a preventative measure rather than in the aftermath of a crisis, a mental and emotional tune-up to address emotional pain points and foster positive habits may take just a month or two.

Once you’ve established a relationship with a counselor, you can inquire about occasional check-ins to process an event. As an example, since completing counseling myself, I checked in with my therapist once to help me process flashbacks after a car accident and another time to help me mentally gear up before the labor and birth of my youngest child.

04. Going to counseling doesn’t mean you are a failure.

“With each client, I acknowledge how much courage it takes to say ‘I need to get some help,’” Maureen says. In her view, willingness to seek counseling is “very admirable,” and far from representing failure.

05. There’s more than one way to find a good counselor.

In a delicious analogy, Maureen says, “There are as many styles of therapist, meaning as many approaches to therapy, as there are flavors of ice cream!” She suggests asking for recommendations from family or friends who have had positive experiences. Additionally, since most counselors these days have a website, she encourages going online to learn more about the therapist you’re considering working with and their specific approach to counseling. You can also use the Internet to check on compatibility with your insurance, if applicable.

06. It’s okay if it takes some time to build trust.

Working with a counselor through past wounds and rewiring healthy habits of communication and relating is tough and potentially very uncomfortable work, especially early on. Understandably, being challenged on thought or behavior patterns that aren’t serving us well could make anyone want to cut and run, even when the message is delivered kindly.

If you start working with a counselor but feel like you two aren’t “clicking” right away, Maureen encourages waiting several sessions to give the therapist-client relationship time to build. Red flags that should prompt you to seek another therapist include a lack of empathy or failure to listen.

07. Consider therapy an investment in your wellbeing.

You may struggle with sticker shock at the cost of a therapy session, particularly for a very experienced counselorI certainly did. Consider looking at counseling through a wellness lens again: we’re often willing to spend more money on healthier (perhaps organic and/or grass-fed) foods that will help us feel better and our bodies function more optimally. Maureen offers her perspective that, “It’s hard to put a price on the value of mental health.” Clients generally find, as my own experience confirms, that it’s worth every penny, and their most common regret is not pursuing therapy sooner. And remember, counseling is not forever!

08. Counseling does not just validate overly emotional, dramatic behavior.

Perhaps you’re generally a logical, call-it-like-you-see-it kind of woman and you wonder if counseling perpetuates overly emotional, irrational behavior. Maureen observes that when a person is essentially emoting all over the place without a filter, “Typically, they don’t have words to express in a healthy way whatever is going on. The goal of counseling is not to be dramatic. It’s to be able to maturely recognize that we are feeling emotions, identify them, and regulate them healthily. Therapy helps people understand that emotions are there for a reason—they alert you to an issue so you can make wiser, smarter decisions.” As people grow in self-awareness and healthy emotional regulation, emotional outbursts and drama will logically decrease.

Just as there is no one way to process joy, grief, anger, anxiety, or even the ups and downs of a typical day, so there is no one-fits-all approach to counseling. But we can be certain that our minds deserve the same level of care with which we tend to our bodies, and having a relationship with a professional can be of benefit when life takes an unexpected turn.