Sunday, August 30, 2015

Counseling - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

Welcome back, y'all! (Okay, so I know it's me who's been gone. Sorry!) The school year has started up again, and so I've neglected the blog for a bit. But I'm back!

Last time, we talked about moving on. If you missed it, just click here! There's even a fun video.

Today, we address the first thing on the list for moving on: counseling.

I know it can be tempting to think that talking to your trusted friends is good enough. And for some of you, that may be true. However, please consider the following before deciding to rely solely on friends for counseling.

  • Confessing your deepest darkest secrets to your friends might feel good for you, but it can take a toll on them, too. Especially things that were scary or painful for you. Sometimes, those things are even more painful for them, because they don't know how to help.
  • Some things, especially trauma, require someone with training. These are complex issues and, tempting as it may be to try to untangle them on your own or with friends, most trauma really does require expert help.

Once you've decided that you need someone more than your friends, who do you go to? To be honest, I lucked out and found my counselor by simply Googling for counselors in my city. Do be sure to read reviews, though. While not completely reliable, too many bad reviews of a particular counselor could be a red flag. If faith is important to you, simply add the name of your faith to the search. Also, check with your insurance company to make sure the counselor is covered.

When you call to schedule your appointment, you can request a specific counselor, let the receptionist know which gender of counselor you prefer, or just ask to try whichever counselor has the first opening. You can always change counselors, so look at the first appointment as a trial run.

So you've found a counselor to try and called to set up the appointment. Now what?

Waiting and trying to imagine what the appointment will be like can be anxiety-inducing. But relax. Honestly, I went into my first appointment with a million and one things I thought I wanted to tell the counselor or that I thought he would ask of me. I probably caused myself more worry thinking about it than necessary.

In reality, the first appointment will usually consist of the counselor asking you to tell him/her about yourself and why you decided to enter counseling. After that, the route of the counseling will vary based on your needs, your counselor's preferences, and the purpose of the counseling. Mine often consisted of anxiety techniques, trauma debriefing, self-defense strategies, and just talking about life and what was going on. It was not overwhelming or intimidating, and I always felt better when I left.

Putting off counseling out of fear is easy to do. I tried counseling once, with devastating results (I cannot emphasize switching counselors until you find one that is right for you), and then put off counseling again until I attempted suicide and my friend forced me to attend counseling.

If you are reading this and considering counseling, the answer is now. You are considering it for a reason. You owe yourself the chance.

In small towns, counseling can be a little scary. What if you run into someone you know? What if your friend sees your car there? I solved this problem by simply parking in the back, but also, don't be afraid to explore nearby towns, just don't find a counselor so far away that you'll be tempted to skip appointments.

I've had friends tell me that they had considered counseling, but didn't feel that they had a good enough reason. The truth is, if you're considering counseling, you probably need it. Counseling is helpful for a variety of issues, from feeling overwhelmingly stressed out by school to considering suicide. If you're thinking about it, you owe yourself a trial run.

But how do you pay for counseling? After all, it can get expensive. I can't say that I have all of the answers, but here are the ways I managed to make it affordable on a grad student budget.

  • Insurance - Grad student insurance sucked, but it did still cut down the cost some. I paid about $25-30 per visit.
  • Student Counseling - My university offered free counseling. I did not stay there because I saw an overtaxed system and knew I could afford to pay for counseling to free up space for students who could not. Check your university; if you are faculty/staff/student, they likely offer some sort of free or cheap counseling.
  • Counselors in Training - My last, and best, counselor was completing his clinical hours toward his master's degree. He was not covered by insurance until he completed those hours, and so the clinic he worked with only charged a total of $30 per hour. It's a long shot, but when calling counseling centers, you can always ask if they have anyone in a similar situation. 

The bottom line is this: If you are considering counseling, try it. Even if it is a little pricey, it could quite literally save your life. You can't put a price tag on that.

Stay healthy, friends, and feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any tips or tricks for finding and affording the right counselor!