Why see a counselor?

Why See a Counselor?


by David Sanchez, LPC, LCAS

I have often wondered why millions of people can benefit from professional counseling, but on average only about 10% of the U.S. population actually takes advantage of it.  Like anything that is important and meaningful in life, professional counseling takes patience, effort and practice. For some individuals, it can be like going to the dentist after many years of missing cleanings, and dealing with the daunting fear of the unknown.

Some questions some people may have about counseling are:  Where do I begin to look for a counselor?  How do I know if the counselor I choose will be a good fit for me?  How often do I need to see a counselor?  Shouldn’t I just be strong and deal with my own problems? How much will it cost and will they take my isurance?  The list goes on and on, however; many of these questions can be answered with a little research. For your benefit, I will answer them in this blog.


“People don’t hesitate telling acquaintances about a trip to their dentist or physician, but most stay quiet about their therapy appointment,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and professor in Pasadena, Calif. The reason for this, he reported, was because even though they experience positive change, he said, there’s still stigma attached to seeking counseling.

“Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their symptoms because our society places illogical taboos on mental health issues over physical conditions,” said clinical psychologist Nikki Massey-Hastings, PsyD.

To dispel stigma, Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who’s struggled with depression, utilizes a two-step approach by educating the public about mental illness and leading by example.

Specifically, she teaches about what mental illness is and isn’t. “Mental illness is a combination of neurobiology and psychological influences, not a weakness in character,” said Serani, author of Living with Depression. She also reports “how with proper diagnosis and treatment that I live with depression successfully and have a meaningful life.”

In my clinical opinion choosing to step into your fears and  tackling issues head-on, with the help of a counselor,  is the opposite of weak or “crazy.” It actually takes more courage.


Many individuals are not aware of the signs and symptoms that would signify seeking counseling. The truth of the matter is that many individuals wait until they can no longer handle their symptoms, Massey-Hastings said. For instance, many couples don’t seek counseling until their relationship is deeply damaged, she said. (Specifically, that’s usually when partners attack each other or withdraw from the relationship.)

“It is advisable to seek help when you first feel like you are ‘not yourself’ or have noticed mild to moderate symptoms that are interfering with your life [such as] difficulty sleeping, irritability or increased dissatisfaction with your relationship,” she said.

A professional counselor will assess your symptoms and determine  the severity of them, she said. They’ll will be able to determine if you have a clinical diagnosis and, if needed, conduct formal psychological testing “to quantify and parse apart symptoms that are shared among disorders,” she said. Then the professional counselor will talk to you about treatment options, she said. In other words, they’ll provide you with a map to work through your issues, she added.

Getting Started

Again, many are unsure how or where to start. As Howes said, “Therapy may seem like a strange, foreign land to someone who’s never been.”

When starting your search, Massey-Hastings suggested using Google keywords such as “find a therapist” and your zip code. You also can search psychology today by location, and ask friends and family for recommendations.

Another option, she said, is to discuss your symptoms and next steps with your primary care physician. “Your physician may have a group practice or therapist he [or] she frequently works with and highly recommends,” she said.


Time & Energy

The last thing you probably want to do after leaving work is rehash your problems. “Many of us are so tired from working hard and dealing with emotional stressors, there’s no energy left to talk through problems,” Howes said.

While this — like all the obstacles — is legitimate, with some effort, you can fine-tune your schedule, he said. “It’s possible that therapy can actually be a source of energy, not a drain.”


Therapy can be costly. But you can find affordable treatment. For instance, many therapists offer services based on a sliding scale. Community mental health centers offer therapy at little or no cost, Howes said.

(These two articles cover helpful options when you can’t afford therapy.)

Consider the potential price of neglecting your problems and well-being, Howes said. He raised these critical questions: “How much does a lost job cost? A damaged relationship? A divorce? What price would you place on job satisfaction, achieving your potential, resolving past hurt and learning to accept yourself?”

Loved Ones

Well-meaning loved ones are another deterrent. “People suffering with symptoms may be told by well-meaning friends and family that they will get through it, that it’s just a phase, or they may provide well-meaning but deficient solutions,” according to Massey-Hastings. For instance, if you’re depressed, they might suggest exercising more, she said.

If you’d like to disclose your feelings to loved ones, pick the people you trust most and can truly talk to about these sensitive issues, she said. Also, figure out ahead of time how you’d like them to support you, she said.

“Schedule a private time with one or two of those people and try to share with them what you’ve been experiencing.” And communicate directly how they can help, she said.

“If you feel uncomfortable discussing your difficulties with family and friends, a therapist can help you figure out your boundaries around what information to share, how to communicate what you’d like to be known, and how to ask for support,” Massey-Hastings said.

Again, therapy is anything but easy. As Howes said, “When you consider the fact that therapy invites a distressed person to reveal, discuss, and wrestle with the most difficult issues in their life, the better question might be ‘why in the world would anyone choose therapy?’”

And there are many answers. But all of them have one key thing in common: Therapy can help you ease your pain and create a healthier and more fulfilling life.