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. In agency settings an administrative process often determines to whom a client will be assigned based on therapist availability. Professional counselors help clients identify goals and solutions to problems causing emotional turmoil. They seek to improve communication and coping skills, strengthen self-esteem, promote behavioral change, and achieve improved 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 problems by building on existing strengths. A professional counselor encourages personal growth and development. 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 practices, 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 an understanding and respect for diverse cultural backgrounds.


From childhood through late adulthood, there are times when we may need help addressing problems that cause emotional distress. 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 a situation by changing behaviors that contribute to the problem and finding constructive ways to deal with situations beyond your control. Good indicators of when you should seek counseling are when you are experiencing emotional distress or functional impairment. If a person is questioning whether they should pursue counseling, that itself is probably a good indicator that they would benefit from it. 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 have a mental health illness 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.


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 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. 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, a statement of necessity, and an 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 are best addressed by the use of a specific modality such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a structured approach over the course of 8-12 sessions and in some cases more. 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 to be most appropriate for you and 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 assesses an imminent danger to self or others.


In addition to symptoms that may be long-lasting and difficult to manage, individuals experiencing mental health symptoms often face the added challenge of social stigma associated with mental health and receiving mental health services. This stigma often arises due to misconceptions about mental health. In reality, many people who participate in counseling do not have a mental illness. They are experiencing normal life challenges or transitions that have cumulative effects such as lowering personal resiliencies. Examples of life challenges include 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, 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 go to counseling. If you’re experiencing any of these stressors you are not alone. Counseling can be extremely helpful by providing the support and skills to better manage your mental, physical, and emotional 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 do you manage insurance claims?
-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 in session. Initially, you may feel awkward or anxious. It can be difficult to open up and share your problems. This is normal. Counselors have different styles, personalities, and approaches. But be sure to take time to evaluate how you feel interacting with a counselor 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. 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 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 themselves along with their limitations and the difficulties they’re experiencing. Counselors have a humbling opportunity to be invited into the life of their clients and to help them create durable change.

1638 Eagle View Drive
Homer, AK 99603

(907) 602-2578

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