What's the difference between counseling and
facilitates venting, expressing and clarifying feelings and
learning; decision-making; and some problem-solving. It aims to help clients
become wiser, more focused, grounded, aware, self confident,
and motivated. Some types of professional counseling focus on specific areas
like weddings, home-building, physical training, investing,
growth, and financial, career, vacation, relocation, and retirement
Personal, couple, and family therapy
add systematic psychological and sometimes spiritual assessment and interventions to counseling. The
therapeutic process may involve the unconscious
mind, the body, and the spirit or soul of participants. Generally, the various
forms of therapy aim to...
stressing a person, relationship, or
repressed emotions and awarenesses (break
restore or grow wholistic (mind + emotions + body +
spirit) balance and stability,
stabilize or raise moods, and/or reduce excessive
safely end toxic obsessions and compulsions
confidence, and hope,
improve the quality and stability of
relationships and family systems; and for some...
help clients discover, affirm, and manifest their
Therapy can focus on one adult or child, a
relationship (e.g. mate-mate, parent-child, sib-sib), a
home, or multi-generational family, or an organization. There may be one therapist, two co-therapists, or a team of
different specialists like a social worker, child psychologist, marital
therapist or mediator, and a psychiatrist (MD). Therapists can work in a private practice, or a private
or state-funded clinical agency.
Different therapies use combinations of
talk, sound, art and imagery,
movement, massage, aromas, music, fantasy, journaling, instruction,
role-plays, inner dialogs,
and other means to facilitate the work. There are hundreds of different therapy
models or paradigms differing in the mix of beliefs, techniques, scope, and values that their
founders and practitioners believe in.
the last three generations, mainline Western therapists have been shifting
from focusing on one person (e.g. psychoanalysis) to assessing and treating
the person or couple's
Recently, therapists are beginning to use proven
family-systems assessments and interventions to improve the functioning of
For perspective on inner-family therapy ("parts work"), see this
Q2) What kinds of
clinicians are there, and are there "best" kinds?
There are many
kinds of counselors and therapists to choose from, and specialties within each kind. Their titles and the letters
after their names can be confusing. Guidelines:
Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors (MDs) who
have had additional training in mind-body assessment and interventions. Only
MDs can legally prescribe medication for "mental health" problems. Licensed
pharmacists can advise on
medications, fill prescriptions, and refer to psychiatrists and other healthcare providers.
Some psychiatrists also have degrees in marital and/or family therapy or
Psychiatrists usually work with individual adults or
children, and are usually the most expensive clinicians, with hourly rates over $100. Their focus can range from classic
medical treatment to "non-traditional"
work including acupuncture,
therapeutic touching, light, herbs, aroma and movement therapy, spiritual work,
and other practices. Many specialize in particular areas of mind-body health care.
Health insurance will often offset their fees, within limits.
Psychologists are trained in
individual and group behavior, but usually not in physiology and medicine.
Licensed clinical psychologists provide therapy and counseling to
individual adults and/or kids or groups. Typical psychologists are
skilled in using a variety of non-medical tests ("instruments") to help
diagnose a person's personality and problems.
Like psychiatrists, they may
specialize in one or more problem-types. Most psychologists have Master's and Ph.D. degrees. The
latter may be called "doctor." They typically charge less than
most psychiatrists, and may be covered by some insurance plans..
Social Workers usually have less
training in instruments, no medical training (unless they work in a
hospital), and more training in
providing a range of community-networked services to individuals, couples,
children, and their
families. Licensed psychiatric
and clinical social workers provide child, adult, marital, and
family counseling and therapy in public and private agencies; hospital,
school, and welfare departments; and private practices.
They have Masters (MSW) or
Ph.D. level (DSW) degrees, and usually need a state license to practice (LCSW -
Licensed Clinical Social Worker). When proficiency and experience allow,
they may also earn "ACSW" (Academy of Certified Social Workers)
accreditation from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
Clinical social worker's fees are often less than or equal to psychologists.
Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) and
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) provide therapy and counseling like
clinical social workers. They have no formal medical or psychological-test
training, and usually get somewhat less training in providing networked social
services than social workers. MFTs focus more on preventing and reducing
relationship problems than other (generic) therapists. LPCs are more
general. They both are usually licensed by state organizations like the other
Pastoral Counselors offer special
focus on facilitating spiritual well-being and growth, in addition to
non-medical counseling and therapy to persons,
couples, and families. They may be affiliated with a church, an agency, a
hospital, or in private practice. Some have higher-education degrees
and certifications. Many have training in religion-based trauma-recovery
(including grief) and marital counseling. See
and Q8 for more perspective.
Family Life Educators (CFLE)
provide information about the life-skills required to manage a
family effectively, including parenting. They usually have masters degrees or
higher, and provide expert adult and group instruction and some counseling, but usually not formal
therapy. They may work with
or refer to a range of local human-service professionals and organizations in their work.
have special training in
assessing and guiding addicts and their families towards accepting and
(achieving and maintaining sobriety). There are several levels of
professional accreditation and licensure in most states. Many have
additional professional degrees like those above. Addiction
counselors may belong
to one or more local and/or national associations like
Addiction counselors usually work in public or
private agencies specializing in inpatient and outpatient addiction
They're often members of multi-disciplinary clinical teams that work with
addicts and their families. Addiction counselors are gradually accepting
that addictions are not a personal "disease," but symptoms of serious
and major childhood neglect and trauma.
For more perspective on addictions
and addiction management ("preliminary recovery"), see
Life Coaches are
trained to facilitate clients (a) becoming more aware of their strengths,
limitations, and personal goals, and (b) overcome some barriers to progress
on the latter. Most certified coaches are rigorous about not providing
therapy because they lack training and licensure to do that. So they
avoid focusing on personal psychodynamics, and usually refer clients to
therapists when appropriate.
+ + +
Other professional counselors and therapists specialize in helping
clients manage problems with sex, grief, finances, disabilities, and
occupation. They may or may not have one or more degrees in the professions above.
Law-enforcement agencies, schools,
hospitals, HMOs, and
public-aid caseworkers provide family-support services
that can include counseling and/or therapy.
The best kind of counselor or
therapist for a given problem is one who is trained, licensed, and experienced at
diagnosing personal and relationship problems (unfilled
needs) and skilled at offering cost-effective, respectful interventions that
help clients improve their
in desired ways. See Q5 below.
How much does
counseling and therapy cost?
Fees for these clinical
services vary widely. Some agencies and
private practitioners use a "sliding scale" for
low-income clients who can't afford full-scale fees, so charges can be as low as a
few dollars per hour. Full
scale now ranges between (roughly) $60 to $150 per hour. Fees from licensed
providers often qualify for some health-insurance coverage.
Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Preferred-Provider Organizations (PPOs), and managed-care organizations pay for
a limited number of sessions with qualified clinicians. This cost-management limitation often hinders
permanently reducing most psychological-wound (trauma-recovery)
problems unless clients can pay for extended therapy themselves.
The easily overlooked counter-question is "How much does it cost (eventually)
to not get appropriate counseling? There is no meaningful
way to answer this question, other than accumulating personal
pain, frustrations, disappointments, and losses over many years and looking
back with hindsight and regret.
is the best investment courting
partners and other family adults can make to avoid such regrets and clinical
costs. A high percentage of average people appear to inherit the
epidemic [wounds + unawareness]
from their ancestors. Those that do can benefit greatly from effective
personal trauma-recovery therapy, to avoid
passing the toxic cycle down the generations.
Q4) Typically how
long does counseling or therapy last?
This depends on many factors. The practical answer is
"It lasts until...
the patient or client feels the problem is solved
'well enough,' or...
funding runs out; or...
the participants' and/or
clinician's patience, stamina, and hope run out."
Most relationship and family
problems are symptoms of underlying adult psychological
so periodic effective clinical help can remain a valuable investment for many years.
What's the best way to shop for an effective clinician?
who have never hired a professional counselor or therapist before may waste
considerable time, money, and energy by picking an
ineffective clinician. Choosing a plumber, dentist, doctor, or mechanic is easier in a sense, because you know what service you need.
Paradoxically, the first thing you need to learn in shopping for a clinician
is "what's my problem?"
A good way to
start shopping is to do an attitude check. The best counseling or
therapy out-comes happen when clients believe "I am responsible for the
quality my life and relationships" rather than expecting someone else (a
parent, spouse, or professional) to take that responsibility. This attitude
allows you to seek a clinician who's attitude is
"If you hire me, I accept the
responsibility for helping you learn how to identify and fill your own needs
A second vital
attitude to adopt is "I am a worthy, talented, competent person with
unarguable human rights and a valuable
life-purpose." Many of my therapy clients have been in protective denial of
a well-camouflaged attitude of
and unworthiness. This is one of up to six psychological
acquired in early childhood from abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma"). For perspective, meditate on these brief ideas on healthy
(a) "What - specifically -
do I need, and (b) what prevents me from filling my needs now?" If you
can't evolve clear answers to those questions by mediation,
discussion with trusted others, then select a professional who will help you
answer them before doing anything else.