Why Do I Need to See a Mental Health Counselor?
Why should you see a mental health counselor? The answer may surprise you. Many people think they must have a serious issue to see a counselor. They may worry that going to a counselor indicates they are not right in the head. Neither are true.
You go to your primary care physician when you’re physically sick from a nagging cough or pneumonia. You would even go for a periodic checkup. The same scenario applies for seeing a licensed mental health counselor. While you might go if you’re experiencing a crisis or are concerned about a potential psychological disorder, you also might want to seek help if you have relationship problems, career difficulties or developmental disorders. You may even want to discuss behavioral changes to make your already great life better.
When you see a mental health counselor, you have a neutral third party on your side, dedicated to helping you grow and flourish. And it’s someone who is legally required to maintain your confidentiality.
What a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Is
A licensed mental health counselor is trained and certified to help you with a variety of issues. After graduation from a master’s degree program, they go through an internship that requires two years of clinical supervision before they are licensed. Mental health counselors may specialize in children, adults, geriatrics, substance abuse, grief and trauma.
In addition to licensed mental health counselors, there are licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and certified addiction professionals (CAP). If you’re seeking treatment, be sure to confirm the counselor’s credentials with the appropriate governing entity. In Florida, the people licensed to perform formal mental health work (aside from psychologists and psychiatrists) are licensed through the 491 Board.
When to See a Counselor or Psychiatrist
The biggest difference between a psychiatrist and licensed mental health counselor is that psychiatrists are medical doctors who prescribe psychotropic medications. They have undergone intensive psychiatric training and are the equivalent of a mental primary care doctor. While psychiatrists do rely on medication for treatment, they also are trained to provide psychotherapeutic support. Licensed mental health counselors, on the other hand, rely on talk therapy.
Many psychiatrists, especially in community mental health centers, have so many clients it is not feasible for them to spend too much extra time with their patients beyond assessing the effect of the medication and having a conversation about how they are doing. Ideally, the counselor picks up where the psychiatrist leaves off to work on more in-depth issues.
How to Find a Counselor
If you have health insurance, check your insurance carrier’s website to find providers in your network. You may need to do an internet search to get the most up-to-date contact information.
If you do not have insurance, a number of community-funded providers offer mental health or psychiatric treatment. Dial 211 from your phone or Google “211 Central Florida” to access one of the most comprehensive databases of community resources (including mental health) I am aware of.
What to Expect During Your Visit
When you go to a licensed mental health counselor, they explain the limits of confidentiality, a detailed breakdown of informed consent and the expectation of collaborating with you in any treatment plan you desire: You are the expert on your life.
Going into counseling may feel odd at first. Opening up to a stranger is a process, and if you do not feel like you and your therapist click, let them know. It is common to confuse not clicking with having the wrong therapist. If you do not feel that they are the right one for you — even after discussing your issues with any given therapist — consider finding a new one.
After the initial getting-to-know-you period, however, you should expect a professional who is empathetic, who listens and challenges you, and who gives heavy deference to your goals for therapy.
There may be times that your therapist sees something that you may not, and they may push you in directions that are uncomfortable. Please bring that up! Your discomfort may be a sign that either you have reached a valuable area to work on or that your therapist is off track. If your therapist refuses to acknowledge your discomfort (or tries to make you do something you do not want to do), it might be a good idea to look for a new one.
Why should you see a mental health counselor? Because sometimes we need to talk with someone who is trained to listen and advise in a professional and nonjudgmental way.
Community Provider Resources
https://aspirehealthpartners.com/: largest community mental health/substance abuse provider in the area
http://obfh.org/: offers counseling, PCP and other services on a sliding scale regardless of your ability to pay
https://www.mhacf.org/: local mental health association with a free clinic
https://ccie.ucf.edu/ccrc/: free counseling staffed by supervised UCF counseling students
https://www.hfuw.org/gethelp/: Heart of Florida United Way resource hub
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