Frequently Asked Questions

What is professional counseling?

Professional counseling (or psychotherapy) is a professional relationship that focuses on addressing your personal problems in a way that promotes psychological growth and development. Counselors don't tell you what to do. They are more like guides who help you find your own way, offering their expertise and suggesting tools and techniques to help you discover new and better options for dealing with your issues and moving toward a more fulfilling future.

The goal of the counseling process is not only to solve present problems, but to prevent future problems from occurring and enhance psychological growth.  What a client learns through counseling can continually be applied to new life situations, safeguarding against the future development of serious problems and enhancing coping ability when problems arise. So, even if you are not experiencing serious problems at this time, you might want to consider counseling for self-improvement, developing insight, or acquiring new skills and tools in order to deal with life changes in a more fulfilling way.

How do I know if I need counseling?

Everyone needs help, support, or guidance from time to time. As stated above, you might want professional counseling in order to move forward in a more efficient way than you could manage on your own. Or you might want to deal with a specific problem or concern. Either way, if you are thinking that counseling might be helpful for you, then it probably would be. Trust your instincts.

If you’re still not sure, then take the Do I Need Therapy? Quiz and the Anxiety Assessment.

What is a professional counselor?

A professional counselor has a master's (M.Ed., M.A., or M.S.) or doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) in counseling or a related field which includes an internship and coursework in human behavior and development, effective counseling theories and techniques, ethical practice, and other core knowledge areas that might include career counseling, addictions counseling, multicultural counseling, family therapy, and group therapy.

State licensure requirements vary, but generally, in order to be licensed a counselor needs a master's or doctoral degree, two years of supervised clinical experience, and the passage of an examination. Professional counselors may also be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).

Professional counselors are required to participate in continuing education seminars or conferences as a condition for license or certification renewal. This ensures that counselors keep themselves up to date on the latest developments in the field.

Professional counselors follow a Code of Ethics that protects the confidentiality of the counseling relationship, and requires counselors to put the needs and welfare of their clients before all other concerns related to their practice.

How long does counseling take?

Professional counseling is usually considered no longer necessary when the client no longer deems it necessary. When a counselor and client agree that the problems or issues that initiated the counseling relationship have been resolved, or the client considers that his or her goals for counseling have been met, then the relationship is formally terminated–with the understanding, of course, that it can be reinstated when and if the client finds it necessary or desirable.

The length of time for counseling can rarely be predicted in advance. Counseling can take 2 weeks to 2 years or more, depending on what the client wants to achieve. However, you can decide in advance the number of sessions you would like to have and then discuss it with your counselor to see whether it seems reasonable.

What can I expect from the counseling process?

Professional counseling is, above all, a relationship. That means that you are an active participant and make choices about what you discuss. Your counselor will support and guide you through the process. At the beginning of the counseling process, your counselor’s focus will be on establishing trust. She will want to understand you and what you have experienced so that you will trust her guidance, and so that she will be able to guide you in a direction that is productive. She will need to learn as much as possible about you, and you will need to be as honest and open as you can be about yourself. And don’t hesitate to ask questions, since learning more about your counselor and about the counseling process itself will help you to feel more comfortable.

When you come in for your first in-office appointment, or before your first online appointment, you will be asked to:

  1. Complete a Counseling Intake form that asks some basic information about you and your family, educational, social, loss, spiritual, medical, and employment history. It also includes a psychological self-assessment.

  2. Read and sign the Informed Consent form. It will give you detailed information about the counseling relationship, your counselor’s approach, and the ethical and legal issues involved.

These are somewhat lengthy forms, and if you have come into the office, you will be able to take them home. You can also, of course, print them out yourself, fill them out, and bring them with you to your first appointment.

What makes you especially qualified to do counseling online?

I (Elissa Bishop-Becker) got my first computer in 1983, and it was love at first sight. I immediately figured out how to access bulletin boards (what are now known as message boards or forums) and began to communicate with other people. I facilitated a class in a chatroom for 3 years, am a registered verified counselor with both and LivePerson, and I have been doing counseling via both email and chat for about 10 years.

In addition to my other credentials, I am certified as a Distance Credentialed Counselor (DCC).  According to the Center for Credentialing & Education, "A Distance Credentialed Counselor (DCC) will be nationally recognized as a professional with training in best practices in Distance Counseling. Distance Counseling is a counseling approach that takes the best practices of traditional counseling as well as some of its own unique advantages and adapts them for delivery to clients via electronic means in order to maximize the use of technology-assisted counseling techniques. The technology-assisted methods may include telecounseling (telephone), secure email communication, chat, videoconferencing or computerized stand-alone software programs."

Is online counseling a good option for me?

Online counseling is a good option for you IF you answer "yes" to one or more of the following statements:

  • You are comfortable with and have experience on the internet

  • You use online modalities such as chat and email on a regular basis

  • You like to express yourself in writing

  • You can type fairly quickly (in chat sessions)

  • You prefer to participate in counseling in the familiar surroundings of your home or office

  • You have young children, other caregiving responsibilities, or disabilities that make it difficult for you to leave your home

  • You live in a rural area where access to licensed professionals is limited

  • You are concerned with privacy and would prefer that no one see you in a therapist’s office

  • You are too busy to go to a therapist’s office

  • You find it difficult to make an appointment for the same time every week

  • Your hearing problem makes it easier for you to communicate in writing

  • Your sight problem makes it less important for you to be physically present with a counselor

What can I do to get the most benefit from counseling?

You can:

  • Be open and honest with your counselor  
  • Be ready to try new ways of dealing with problems or concerns

  • Attend your counseling sessions regularly and be on time

  • Think about what you want to talk about before your session

  • Complete homework tasks if assigned

  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something about the process

  • Think of yourself as a partner in the counseling relationship

  • Inform your counselor if something she suggests is not working for you. Not every technique or method works for every client.

  • Talk with your counselor about your progress in counseling

  • Apply your new insights and growth in your daily activities

Remember, in addition to a healing or recovery process, counseling can be an exciting adventure of discovery–the discovery of yourself and a better way to live!

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