Nobody is an expert at handling all of life’s challenges and difficulties. At some time in our lives, each of us may feel overwhelmed and may need help dealing with our problems.
Sometimes it just seems that no matter what you try on your own, it just isn’t enough and we need outside help from a trained, licensed professional in order to work through these problems.
- You should consider getting professional help if any of the following are true:
- You feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness and emotionally overwhelmed.
- You are very concerned about your physical or emotional health.
- Your problems do not seem to get better despite your efforts and help from family and friends.
- You notice that your suffering is significantly affecting your work or the lives of people that are important to you.
- You are finding it difficult to carry out everyday activities: for example, you are unable to concentrate on assignments at work, and your job performance is suffering as a result.
- Your actions are harmful to yourself or to others: for instance, you are drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs or becoming overly argumentative and aggressive.
What kind of professional help is available?
When you search for counselors or therapists, there are so many professional titles and acronyms that the search can be confusing. To help make sense of it all, here’s a breakdown of the most common professionals that you will likely encounter, and what the various titles and professional degrees mean.
Note: Some extended health benefits plans provide reimbursement for seeing a specific type of counselling professional, not just anyone. Check with your Human Resources or review your benefits materials to be certain you are choosing the right kind of professional if you hope for reimbursement for some or all of your counselling expenses.
Types of counseling professionals (most commonly encountered):
- A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)or Licensed Social Worker (LSW). This counselling type often works to support families hurt by domestic abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and other issues. Social workers also assist individuals employment-related issues, financial troubles, and the stresses of job loss, a death in the family, and more. In many cases, social workers are the first people available on crisis hotlines and company-offered mental health services.
- A Licensed Professional Counsellor (LPC)has obtained a master’s degree in counselling, psychology, or a related field.
- Psychologistsusually have a doctor degree (in some provinces a Master’s degree), are licensed and certified in the jurisdiction they choose to operate in, and you may see them with the acronym RPsych (Registered Psychologist) or LCP (Licensed Clinical Psychologist) after their name in addition to “PhD” or “PsyD”. For example: Scott Wallace, PhD. R.Psych means that Scott Wallace has a PhD and is a “registered psychologist” (registered with a regulatory body in the province of employment). Psychologists are the type of professional that can diagnose a mental health condition, and offer treatment and support. Psychologists are also heavily involved in psychological assessment (e.g. assessment of mental health, intellectual capabilities, personality, to name a few).
- Psychiatristsare medical doctors who differentiate themselves from psychologists because they are physicians, trained in a primarily medical model, meaning they tend to view mental health issues as having a largely biological basis and thus their treatment tends towards prescription medications rather than talking therapies. Psychologists often refer clients to psychiatrists when they believe that medication will help their condition, and some psychiatrists will refer a person to a psychologist if they think that a talking therapy will help.
How to choose a therapist
To help choose the right therapist for you, consider the following.
1. What does the “fit” with your counsellor feel like?Do you feel safe and comfortable? Is it easy to make small talk? Is the person down-to-earth and easy to relate to. If a counselor doesn’t feel like the best fit for you, that’s okay; but if you find yourself reacting negatively to every counsellor you see, then the issue could be yours and may warrant your sticking it out with a counsellor in an effort to work through your fears of beginning therapy.
2. Does the counsellor have a specific plan for you.Experienced counsellors explain how they can help you and give you a kind of “road map” to their approach, and can even give an indication of how you will know when therapy is finished.
3. Does the counsellor encourage dependence or independence?If your counsellor provides wisdom, answers, or emotional support without encouraging you to access your own resources, it is more likely you will become dependent on your therapist to help you feel better, rather than learning to depend on yourself.
4. What experience with helping others with the same issues does the counsellor have?The more experience therapists have addressing a specific issue, concern, or problem area, the more expertise they have developed.
5. Does the counsellor explain confidentiality\, privacy\, and ethical issues?There are numerous guidelines that licensed counsellors and therapists have to uphold in the therapeutic relationship. Some of these involve ethics (e.g. when a counsellor enters a therapeutic relationship with a client, they should not have any other relationship with that client including friendship or intimacy). As well, the confidentiality and privacy of your sessions must be upheld by the counsellor and they must explain any exceptions to confidentiality that could arise during the therapeutic relationship (e.g. by law, if a counsellor suspects that you may be at imminent risk to harm yourself, or if they suspect a situation involving abuse of a child or elder, they have a duty to break confidentiality and report the concerns to the authorities).
6. Is the counsellor licensed?Licensure implies that a counsellor has engaged in postgraduate counsellng training which, depending on the province of licensure, may include thousands of hours of supervised experience. It also means the counsellor has passed a licensing exam.
7. Does the counsellor have any negative complaints formally registered against them.To see if a counsellor has a record or is under investigation, you can check with your province or state’s licensing board (e.g. in the province of British Columbia, this would be the College of Psychologists of BC). If you are searching the internet and come across client ratings of a particular counsellor, take these ratings with a serious grain of salt. Just because someone has a bad experience does not mean the counsellor, or their approach, was unhelpful—it may reflect the rating client’s inability to be satisfied with any counsellor, no matter how “good” they are.
Finally, how do you know if your counselling is working?As you begin counselling, you should establish clear goals with your counsellor. You might be trying to overcome feelings of hopelessness associated with depression or control a fear that is disrupting your daily life. Remember, certain goals require more time to reach than others. You and your counsellor should decide at what point you may expect to begin to see progress.
If you begin to feel a sense of relief and a sense of hope, those are good signs that counselling is working. People often feel a wide variety of emotions during therapy. When you begin to feel relief or hope, it can be a positive sign indicating that you are starting to explore your thoughts and behavior.
For more information about counselling and therapy, the following resources may be helpful.
- Canadian Professional Counsellors Association. https://www.cpca-rpc.ca
- Canadian Mental Health Association. www.cmha.ca
- Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association. https://www.ccpa-accp.ca
- The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B C. https://www.factbc.org
- Counselling Psychology. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling.aspx
- Psychology Help Centre. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/
- Who needs counselling? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/lib/who-needs-counseling-10-therapy-myths-dispelled/