• Kency Gilet

The Right Counselor After Divorce

The realization that mental health is as important as physical health in regards to the quality of our lives has come not a moment too soon. The slow trickle of news stories covering sudden and tragic deaths by suicide has now  become a raging river of questions and fear over the last two decades. Thankfully, there are plenty of counselors ready to serve a community at need; you only have to find the right counselor.

The unfortunate reality is, after divorce, a great number of individuals who recognize early symptoms of psychological distress delay months and even years before seeking help. That means after noticing a problem people tread along, suffering in silence, until things become unbearable. This reluctance to seek mental health care is due in part to the persistence of mental illness stigma.

This stigma has led the public at large to believe that individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses are dangerous. On the big screen at the direction of Hollywood moguls, mental illness is the defining characteristic of violent characters. In local news stories violent individuals are described as mentally ill, because they have sought mental health services before. Someone acting in a confusing or frightening way is automatically labeled as mental ill. This is the stigma that prevents people from taking care of their own emotional and psychological needs.

Marital and other family conflict exacerbated periods of vulnerability to mental and emotional distress. When that vulnerability opens the door to psychological suffering, its time to find the right mental health counselor for you. But in such a large field, its hard to know who you’ll work well with. Here are questions worth to consider when looking for the right counselor after your divorce.

What Kind of Counselor are they?

Most people don’t consider the counseling perspective of the clinician when seeking help. Every clinician has gone through training on the various counseling modalities and the skills that come with each of them. A counseling perspective is the lens clinicians look through when they consider mental illness and the path to successful treatment.

A cognitive behavioral therapist operates under the assumption that your thoughts (cognitions) are linked to your actions (behaviors). When you alter your thoughts your behaviors change. And vice versa. The real work in therapy will be either adjusting faulty thought patterns to change negative behaviors. You will learn to control your thought processes and use a lot of reinforcement to maintain adaptive behaviors.

Solution-focused therapy (which I tend to operate within) is a goal-directed collaborative approach to change that is conducted through direct observation of clients’ responses to a series of precisely constructed questions. Exceptions to problems are drawn out and deconstructed to identify solutions.

There are dozens upon dozens of treatment modalities. When you find out the one your potential counselor uses, a quick google search will give you details. It will give you insight into how your sessions will progress.

How Much Experience Do They Have?

As with any professional you are considering to hire, you want someone who has experience doing the job. This is the same in mental health counseling. A seasoned counselor is more likely to have honed their counseling skills, grounded themselves in a counseling modality, and have worked with previous clients with similar issues as you.

During an initial phone conversation ask;

(1) How long have you been in practice?  (2) Do you have the appropriate license to practice independently? (3) Can you share your license number? (3) Have you worked with clients suffering from similar issues as mine?

These questions demonstrate your commitment to finding the right counselor and your recovery.

Having been a counseling intern myself and currently supervising counseling interns today, I should add that new counselors have something extremely valuable to add to the counseling profession. You often have someone who is young and eager to be as helpful, empathetic, and available to you as possible. I have often found they are also more idealistic and genuine then a battle-hardened counselor of many decades. Don’t discount a newly licensed clinician’s ability to create a safe therapeutic environment and help you navigate through your problems.

Will This Counselor be Accessible?

Availability of appointment times can vary from one counselor to the next. Some will offer evening sessions for those working 9-5 jobs and others will offer weekend sessions. And it is rare you will find a counselor willing to schedule sessions during holidays. Considered how busy their practice is. You may need more frequent sessions early on in your recovery process. You’ll want to know how long an email or phone message will go unanswered. And how the counselor manages client crises that come up unexpectantly.

Do I Feel Comfortable with This Counselor?

Some good news: regardless of the counseling modality your counselor operates from, regardless of how long they have been in practice, the best predictor of positive outcomes from counseling is the strength of the counseling relationship. If you genuinely like, trust, and view your counselor as competent then you will do better.

This means you should look for a counselor you can connect well with. If you don’t feel well suited with a particular counseling, address it in session with them. You will not offend your counselor, then you can ask for a referral to another counselor.

Can I Afford this counselor?

Mental health counselors use different fee structures in their practices. Some will accept your health insurance, which is often the most affordable option for you. You may have a copay, but it will undoubtedly be less than the full cash rate for the service. Some counselors will offer a sliding fee, which means the rate you pay is dependent on your income. Make sure you understand that when you are utilizing medical insurance to pay for counseling, some of your records are accessible by your insurance provider. This is why some opt to pay the cash rate for an added level of privacy.

Picking the right counselor seems like a daunting task. However, your level of commitment to the process of therapy should include finding the right therapist. Have faith in the process, because any change that does occur will take time.

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