Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Do You Really Know What a Counselor Does?

What does a Counselor Do?

I've been a professional counselor (post-Masters' degree) since 1991.  

I remember back in 1984 telling my dad that I wanted to be a counselor.  He raised his eyebrows at me and said "Let me get this straight... You are going to go to school so you can learn how to tell people how to live their lives?  You might want to re-think that".  Clearly, his idea of counseling was a little different than it actually is.  His opinion was/is not uncommon.  (He hoped that I'd be an engineer, but that first calculus class put the lid on that idea).

After working in a variety of settings, helping hundreds of folks figure things out and feel a little better, and having talked the talk (and tried to walk the walk) for 25 years or so, I realize that some of my friends and relatives still have no clue what I really do as a counselor.  

I figured now was as good a time as any to try to clarify this for anyone who may be interested. Understanding what a counselor does will hep you understand how counseling is helpful.

Counselors listen objectively, yet empathetically. 

Tweet: Counselors listen objectively, yet empathetically.
Someone told me once that they thought I was "paid to listen to people".  Well, yes, but it's a little more complex than that.  

Counselors do listen... objectively... but also with great empathy. When people need to be heard, counselors are terrific listeners.  But, also, while listening, we are validating your experience and your feelings.  So, no... we aren't judging you or getting tired of hearing you complain about things. When we are listening, we are trying to truly understand what it feels like to be you and experiencing what you experience.  It's almost like a "re-parenting" experience of nurturing, listening, validating, encouraging, cheerleading, and teaching you along the way.  

Building trust and creating a safe environment for you to be honest and comfortable is really at the base of all of this.  Building emotional connections with you, counselors help you to feel confident. It is in this setting that you will grow.

Talking to a counselor is different than talking to a friend.

Your friends are probably pretty smart.  But, counselors have some specific knowledge that your friend might not have.  Counselors are trained and skilled professionals.  We have received a Bachelors degree plus a Master's degree in the field of psychology, counseling, social work, ,or a related field.  Many of us are lifelong learners, (me, for example) so the education doesn't end with grad school.  I have thousands of hours of post-graduate coursework and seminar training in specific areas of that have been of interest to me (counseling techniques, ADHD, childhood and adolescent issues, PTSD, depression and anxiety, among others).  So, when you are talking to a counselor, rest assured, you are likely talking to someone who knows a thing or two about the subject you are discussing.  And, if we don't, we sure do know how to find out about it or refer you to someone who does know about it. 

Counselors won't give you the answers.

Many times, folks come in to see me to ask for my opinion or to tell them what the "right thing to do" would be.  Alas, counselors don't do that.  Who are we to make decisions for you?  This is your life!  You are powerful and knowledgeable.  You might be feeling a little foggy or unclear because of your situation or your experiences, but you know you better than anyone.  

Counselors help you find your own answers through listening to your stories, challenging your self defeating behavior, highlighting some blind spots, and, when necessary, teaching you a few new things that will help you to make your own decisions.

Counselors can also help you synthesize all of the material so you can easily see themes that reoccur, or understand a complex situation.  Within all of this examination, goals and objectives can be identified.  Counselors can help you acquire skills for reaching your goals.

To learn more about counselors, head over to the American Counseling Association.  There are lots of great articles there that can give you more information about the services that counselors offer.  I'd love to hear your ideas as well.  Feel free to post a comment below.

Stacey Brown is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor practicing in Fort Myers, Florida.  Sign up for her newsletter and follow on FacebookInstagram and Twitter so you can stay in touch.

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