What is Counseling?
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What is Counseling?




Learn about what counseling looks like, when it is needed, and how it can benefit your life.


With this information, you can make an informed decision about your mental health.




What is counseling?


How many times have you caught yourself thinking that you should see a counselor? What does seeing a counselor really mean? What does getting counseling really entail? These unknowns could be barriers to actually going to see a counselor.  Let’s break this down so you know exactly what you’re getting into.


We’ve all heard about counseling and we all know someone who is in counseling, but what exactly is counseling? First, let’s clear up a common misunderstanding; counseling, psychotherapy, therapy and talk-therapy are synonymous and will be used interchangeably throughout the following text. 


Counseling aims to improve people’s well-being, alleviate distress, and solve crises by developing skills to overcome adversities. Contrary to the media’s portrayal of counseling, it does not always entail lying on a therapist’s couch and telling them your problems. 


Counseling is also a way to treat mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or alcoholism.


Counseling, also known as therapy, can be done with individuals, families, and groups. Couples counseling is a form of family counseling as it primarily focuses on the relationship as a means to accomplish mental health and relationship goals. 


Beyond mental health and relationships, counseling can also be used to help people achieve education and career goals as well.


There are a variety of counseling approaches including music therapy, play therapy, art therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, along with many more. Each approach is tailored to meet an individual’s need and comfort level.




What are the Stages of Counseling? 


Counseling typically involves six sequential stages. These stages include: 



The assessment stage of therapy includes clients getting to know your therapist and vice versa. This stage is for you to determine whether you trust your therapist enough to be vulnerable and share your thoughts and feelings. 


Therapy is most effective when a client feels comfortable with their therapist. This stage also allows the therapist to gather information about the client including their presenting issue, history, needs and how the client is currently functioning. 



After collecting information from the client, the therapist will then develop a mental health diagnosis using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  A diagnosis is required in order for insurance to cover counseling sessions.


Treatment Planning

During treatment planning, the therapist and client develop goals for the client to achieve throughout the therapeutic process. 


Goals are typically specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive. This is an effective way for you and the therapist to measure your progress. 



The counseling stage is where the fun happens. In this stage, you actively work on healing difficult material, processing traumatic events and enhancing your skills to build a greater sense of empowerment and enhance your well-being. 


The client employs different therapeutic modalities including Cognitive-behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, etc. 


The treatment modalities used are dependent on the needs of the client. 


Progress Review

This stage allows you and the therapist to reflect on progress made, review goals and establish new ones if needed. 



When you have achieved your goals and have processed initial issues, you are then ready for termination. The termination process is typically a few sessions in length that consist of you and your therapist reflecting on your therapeutic journey and accomplishments.


You and your therapist would then develop a plan to cope with future adversities. You and your therapist would also discuss feelings related to termination of services. 


This stage can be difficult, as a strong relationship has most likely been developed with the therapist. 

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What are Counseling Skills?


As stated earlier, during the counseling phase of therapy, clients develop skills to overcome their adversities. Skills can include relaxation techniques, problem-solving skills, emotion regulation, assertiveness skills and many others. 


Coping strategies allow clients to better manage symptoms associated with their diagnosis and/or better treat a substance abuse disorder. 


Studies have found that individuals who used more effective ways of coping generally reported higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction. 


You can think of counseling as a form of mental health wellness education.



How do you know if you need Counseling?


Now that you know what counseling is, let’s take a look at how to know when you need it. There are a number of signs that indicate someone may be in need of therapy. Signs to consider are: difficulty maintaining responsibilities related to work, relationships or school. 


Loss of interest in activities once found enjoyable, sadness, grief, increased alcohol or drug use, recent trauma and difficulty regulating emotions. Everyone struggles with at least some of these throughout their life. 


However, if these have persisted most days for at least two weeks, they can be symptoms of an underlying mental health diagnosis. You can also seek therapy if you simply want to improve your life. 


There is no problem too big or too little for therapy.


Some people also participate in counseling groups to accomplish mental health goals.




How often should you see a counselor?


The frequency of meeting with a counselor is dependent on the specific needs of each individual client. Typically, clients begin meeting with a counselor once every week, then once every other week, once every month and finally the client no longer needs therapy. 


Therapy can last anywhere from a few sessions to a few years, depending on the severity of the presenting issues. 




What should I look for in a therapist?


As stated earlier, the greatest indicator for success in therapy is a positive relationship between the client and their therapist. You have to like your counselor in order for it to be effective. 


Yes, therapists and counselors are also synonymous. When looking for a therapist, you will want to consider your preferences on personality types, age, gender and specialties of the therapist.


Therapists may have unique specialties includingcouples counseling, grief counseling, trauma, etc. Therapists typically have three types of credentialing; Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Clinical Counseling. 


Counselors may be independently licensed or work under a supervisor who oversees their work. Each credentialing has their own values, ethics and schooling. However, each is competent to provide quality counseling. 


Your relationship with a therapist or counselor is a professional relationship that empowers you to make change in your life. It is also a relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and communities to achieve mental wellness.



What are you waiting for? 



Counseling takes a lot of hard work and it can be initially difficult to talk about the tough stuff. However, it can also be very rewarding and allow you to start living the life you deserve. 


Now that you know what therapy is, what it entails, what you can expect and whether or not you need it, you can stop saying, “I should really go see someone” and REALLY go see someone! 


For more information, check out this article about Couples Therapy, and Individual Therapy.


Learn more about the author of this article, Kali Rouse.


Lastly, if you feel ready, make an appointment to talk with a therapist today.






American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.


American Psychological Association, & Lichtenberg, J. W. (1999). Archival description of counseling psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 27(4), 589-592.


Freedman, N., Hoffenberg, J. D., Vorus, N., & Frosch, A. (1999). The effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy: The role of treatment duration, frequency of sessions, and the therapeutic relationship. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(3), 741-772.


Hicks, J. W. (2005). Fifty signs of mental illness: A guide to understanding mental health. Yale University Press.


Lichtenberg, J. W. (1999). Archival Description of Counseling Psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 27(4), 589–592. 


McCrae, R. R., & Costa Jr, P. T. (1986). Personality, coping, and coping effectiveness in an adult sample. Journal of personality, 54(2), 385-404.


Oetting, E. R. (1967). Developmental definition of counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 14(4), 382–385. 




Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.



Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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