Help with a capital H

I’ve talked with a few friends recently that have made the courageous decision to seek some help from a counselor for their struggles with anxiety and depression, among other difficulties. 

They each seemed to find our conversation helpful about how to go about finding a counselor and strategies to try in the meantime, so I’ve captured it here for others to access.

This is in no way a definitive guide to selecting a counselor/therapist- it’s just some thought and ideas based upon my personal experiences. So take what works and leave the rest!

First, types of counselors:

I use the titles “counselor” and “therapist” interchangeably, but there are some distinctions among people that have this title based upon their educational background. Here in Ohio, a licensed counselor/therapist will be one of the following:

           Social Worker (MSW, LSW/LISW)

           Clinical Counselor (LPCC)

           Psychologist (Ph.D)

Each of these backgrounds will influence various aspects of how each will approach the work of helping you address your concerns. Depending upon your personal experience and knowledge, you may have a preference among these. Importantly for everyone, the educational background will likely influence the cost per session. The types of licensed mental health counselors/therapists will differ by area.

You may also be able to access counseling services through your church (if that’s your jam). While some churches employ clinical counseling staff, most have “lay ministers” or something to that effect.  My two cents is that these folks, while often very skilled in many ways, often do not have the robust clinical training necessary to address mental health issues with a range of effective techniques. While I believe in prayer and the power of Spirit to effect change….I’d personally encourage you to explore a range of options before deciding the folks in your church’s ministry are equipped to meet your needs. My worry is that you would entrust yourself in the care of someone ill equipped AND unwilling/unable to offer you what you need….and you’ll end up thinking you’re not praying enough or being faithful enough. I’ve got a lot of strong words for that scenario, but that’s a tale for another day. My personal experience is that prayer helped (some) with anxiety….but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy revolutionized my life– which required a trained, licensed counselor (in my case, he was a Social Worker).

Before you research specific counselors, gather some information:

  • Look at what your health insurance will and won’t cover (a session # limit is common)
  • If coverage is low (or none), how much can you realistically afford per month for counseling? While your health is incredibly important, only you can decide how it fits into your financial priorities.
  • Consider your preferences/needs regarding:
    • Location of therapist
    • Hours of availability
    • Sliding-fee-scale
    • Gender of therapist
    • Other cultural considerations such as religion or race

When you are ready to start the search:

If you have medical insurance that covers a portion of the cost, start with the insurance website. It should allow you to search for covered providers and filter results based on the things you care about: location, gender, etc.

If you don’t have insurance, you could begin with a simple search for counselors in your area. Friends and family members may also be able to provide suggestions. Once you have some names, you can do one or more of the following:

  • Web search for reviews
  • View their website (if they have one)
  • Give ‘em a call to ask whatever questions you may (I know, that sounds like a bit much)
  • Simply pick one because doing any more work is just too much right now.

You’ve picked a name….now what?

Well- you give them a call (or some will have an online contact option). Let them tell you how it works from here. Some may do a shorter “consult” session on the phone or in person to discover your needs and ensure you will be a good fit with them. Others will invite you to start with a full session and go from there.

You’ve got to your first session (or two)

On the one hand, don’t give a counselor too many sessions to see if it’s a good fit. While the relationship will take time to build, you shouldn’t stick with someone solely out of guilt, worry of offending them, or fear of how you’ll find someone else.

At the same time, a good portion of you may be wanting to run for the hills with ANY counselor that is asking the hard questions…so I would suggest you process any concerns you have about your new counselor with someone that knows you and can help you test whether your gut is wisely saying “nope, not this one” OR if you need to keep showing up and do this hard thing, trusting that this is a good guide for this part of your journey.

Some tools to consider until you’ve found a counselor

I’ve both experienced and heard a lot of good things about Acceptance Commitment Therapy and the concepts and skills are fairly easy to access. There’s several great resources that you can begin using right now:

  • “The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by John Forsyth and Georg Eifert
  • Books and YouTube videos by Russ Harris

Meditation. This can be an overwhelming thing to try, since our minds chatter like a pack of monkeys when we try to get quiet. But I am telling you….this is worth a try. Also neuroscientists say it’s worth a try. It’s not going to fully address your needs- but the benefits of even just a few minutes of quiet sitting and breathing cannot be overstated. I find that it creates space inside, where before there was just worry and fear. It also supports our connection with ourselves…and you are gonna need you if you are serious about this healing thing.

Meditation apps to try out: Calm, Headspace, Oak (ios only) there’s many others!

Journaling. Paper and pencil/pen/marker, notes app on your phone, Word document…find what works for you. I am often surprised by what comes out in my journal, though it is certainly not always a profound experience. I wish everyone would give this a try (and not just once or twice).

Breathing. Because chances are, you are not actually breathing nearly as much as you could be. Just seven deep, slow, mindful breaths is enough to slow your heart rate and encourage your brain to relax. If the chattering mind monkeys are a distraction while breathing, trying saying (in your head) a word/mantra with each inhale and exhale. Or, I like to simply say “inhale one, exhale one, inhale two” etc. with each of the seven breaths. It occupies my mind enough without the pressure a mantra can sometimes bring (such as judging that I’m not peaceful after saying “peace” for seven breaths).

Give your brain some help. Do things that will boost the hormones that make you feel good. Take a walk, pet an animal, engage in a pleasurable activity, talk with a friend, take Vitamin D3 supplements (along with others, such as a B complex). There’s several OTC options I’ve heard good things about, but I know that’s another thing to research! Some that come to mind are St. John’s Wort for depression and Valerian for anxiety (especially to help in high anxiety situations like public speaking or a job interview).
And finally – dare to hope.  I believe that when we are looking for help and truly want it….it very often comes.


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