What is Counseling?


Professional counselors work with individuals, couples, families and groups. In private practice, a counselor’s interests and experience determine their clientele and the services they provide, whereas in community agency settings availability of caseload typically determines the counselor to which an administrator assigns a client. In short, professional counselors help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil. They seek to improve communication and coping skills, strengthen self-esteem, promote behavioral change and achieve optimal mental health. In counseling you will examine the behaviors, thoughts and feelings that are causing difficulties in your life. You learn effective ways to deal with your problems by building upon personal strengths. A professional counselor will encourage personal growth and development in ways that foster your interests and welfare. Counseling is a collaborative effort between counselor and client.


Professional counselors have a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling or a related field which includes an internship and coursework in human behavior and development, effective counseling strategies, ethical practice, and other core knowledge areas. Professional counselors adhere to a code of ethics that protects the confidentiality of the counseling relationship, prohibits discrimination, mandates that professional counselors put the needs and welfare of clients before all others and requires understanding of and respect for diverse cultural backgrounds. In Alaska, it is illegal for a counselor to call themselves a “professional counselor” without having at minimum a master’s degree in the field of mental health.


From childhood through late adulthood, there are times when we may need help addressing problems that cause emotional distress and overwhelm. If you are experiencing these types of difficulties, you may benefit from the assistance of an experienced counselor. Professional counselors offer caring, skilled assistance that we often need during these stressful times. A counselor can help you identify your problems and assist you in finding the best ways to cope with the situation by changing behaviors that contribute to the problem and finding constructive ways to deal with a situation beyond your control. Good indicators of when you should seek counseling are when you are experiencing emotional distress or functional impairment. Someone questioning whether they should pursue counseling is probably the best indicator that they should. If you’re not playing some, working some, and learning some, then you’re probably out of balance. Counseling is just as effective for feeling out of balance or stuck as it for a specific mental health problem. You don’t have to be “sick” to benefit from counseling. Oftentimes, the difficult issues we face in life are part of a normal developmental process. Indeed, the best time to go to counseling can be when things seem to be just fine. As the adage goes: “you can’t build a house while it’s on fire.”


Most insurance plans cover mental health services but only if a counselor is licensed. If you do not have health insurance, many counselors will work with clients on a sliding-fee scale basis or offer a payment plan. Talk to your counselor about your options. Ideally, counseling is concluded when the presenting problem becomes more manageable or is resolved. However, some insurance companies and managed care plans limit the number of reimbursable sessions. You should check with your health plan to find out more about any limitations in your coverage. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to grant additional sessions when petitioned by a counselor if based on an assessment, statement of necessity, and estimated timeline of care. Your counselor should be able to talk with you about their practices and experience working with insurance companies.


Some problems are more situational and can be resolved in a few sessions. Others may be best addressed by the use of a specific modality such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which is a structured approach where benefits are typically realized in 6-8 sessions. Some chronic issues require longer-term counseling. During the first few sessions your counselor should be able to discuss the length of treatment expected to achieve your goals, as well as the therapeutic approaches they believe are most appropriate for your situation.


All counselors licensed by the State of Alaska subscribe to the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice which require them to protect the confidentiality of their clients. As a client, you are guaranteed the protection of confidentiality within the boundaries of the client/counselor relationship. Any disclosure will be made only with your full written, informed consent. These consents are time-limited and can be redacted at any time in the process by written request. The only limitations to confidentiality occur when a counselor feels there is clear and imminent danger to you or to others, or when legal requirements demand that confidential information be disclosed.


In addition to symptoms that may be long-lasting and difficult to manage, individuals experiencing mental health symptoms may face the added challenge of social stigma around mental health. This stigma often arises due to misconceptions about mental health issues where, in fact, many people who initiate counseling do not have a mental illness. They are experiencing normal life challenges and transitions which, on top of other responsibilities, can have a cumulative effect and lower resiliencies normally available. Examples of life challenges include dealing with work-related stressors; career issues; financial problems; health issues or a recent health diagnosis; family or parent/child conflict; cultural assimilation; the death of a family member or friend; the ending of a romantic relationship or close friendship; changes in relationship dynamics due to the addition of a child; getting married or divorced; caregiving for family or friends due to illness or disability; and trauma. These are just some of the reasons why people decide to go to counseling. If you are going through one or more of these experiences, you’re not alone. Counseling during these life challenges can be extremely helpful in providing both the support and skills to better manage your responses to them. Ultimately, engaging in counseling is an invaluable investment in your emotional, physical and mental health.


Once you have found a counselor you are interested in working with, you should ask several important questions:

-Are you a licensed counselor? What is your educational background? How long have you been practicing?
-What are your areas of specialization (e.g.s., family therapy, couples counseling, substance abuse counseling, etc.)?
-What are your fees? Do you accept my insurance? How is billing handled?
-How can you help me with my problems? What type of treatment do you use? How long do you think counseling will last?

These questions may be addressed during your initial phone conversation or your first session.


After you have had these questions answered by the counselor to your satisfaction, consider how comfortable you feel with the individual. It can be difficult to open up and share your problems. Initially, you may feel awkward or anxious. This is normal. Counselors have different styles, personalities, and approaches. But be sure to take time to evaluate how you feel interacting with them and whether you think that the two of you can work together effectively. If you do not feel at ease, do not get discouraged. Try talking with your counselor about how you feel. Oftentimes, putting those things on the table for both of you to look at can promote trust and authenticity, resolving the very issue itself. If you’ve made a good faith effort and after a few sessions you feel no different, it’s okay to look for a different counselor. It is imperative that you feel safe, not judged, and have rapport with your counselor. Together, you and your counselor will set goals, work toward achieving them, and assess along the way how well you are actually meeting them. Counseling can help you maximize your potential and make positive changes in your life. Finally, remember that counseling may be hard work at times but change and progress do happen.


At its best, effective counseling encourages clients to accept and love themselves along with their limitations and the difficulties they present. Counselors have a humbling opportunity to be invited into the life of their clients; to help them create for themselves durable change by recognizing their own dignity. Counseling is not seeing a patient that needs to be treated. It is only when a counselor sees a person walk through the door that change has already begun.

1638 Eagle View Drive
Homer, AK 99603

(907) 602-2578

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