Mental Health Counseling — Frequently Asked Questions


If you've never talked to a counselor before, you may have a lot of questions. Don't let these questions keep you from getting help. Counselors can help with situations such as relationship problems, feeling depressed, problems with alcohol or drugs, having trouble setting or reaching goals, and many other types of problems. In a life-threatening emergency, however, dial 911.

Below are some answers to questions people often ask about counseling.

Q: What is counseling?

A: In counseling, you meet with a trained and experienced mental health professional. The counselor will help you understand and come up with ways of dealing with problems. They may help you identify a mental health or substance use problem and treat that problem. Or they may just help you learn new skills or tools to help you handle life better. These might be skills that help you talk to others better, or take better care of yourself when you are stressed. You might learn how to say no when you need to, or how to make better decisions. Counseling is confidential, so no one except you and the counselor will know what you talk about.

Some topics that are often talked about in counseling include: What do you want in life, and how can you get there? How are you living by your values? Who supports you when times get tough? What are your strengths? Are there things that you keep doing over and over that aren't helpful? How can you do things differently?

Q: How do I know when I should seek help?

A: Go ahead and ask for help even if you are not sure your problem is big enough to need counseling. Counselors can help you figure out what might be going on and what you could do about it. They also can make referrals to other helpful services.

There are many situations that might indicate that you should try counseling. A few of these are:

  • Feeling unhappy for no reason
  • Not being satisfied with your life
  • Having trouble making decisions
  • Having trouble setting or reaching goals
  • Being tired for no reason
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Changes in sleeping or eating
  • Acting in ways that you don't like
  • Acting in ways that get you in trouble
  • Problems with alcohol or drugs
  • Relationship problems
  • Having trouble at work
  • Thinking about death a lot or thinking of hurting yourself

Q: Isn't counseling just for mentally ill people?

A: No. While counseling is one type of treatment for people with a mental illness, just about everyone can be helped from counseling at some time in his or her life. Seeing a counselor can help keep things from getting worse, and may even keep a mental illness from developing.

Take a Confidential Screening Test

This confidential online screening may help you decide whether it's time to seek professional assistance for a mental health issue. This screening tool is provided through Mental Health Connections, a program provided by the Health District of Northern Larimer County and SummitStone Health Partners.

Q: Wouldn't it be better just to tough it out? Things might blow over if I just hang in there.

A: Sometimes this can work, depending on the type of problems you have and how much support you have. But think about having a bad toothache and not going to the dentist — you keep on hurting and the problem will probably get worse. The earlier you get help, the more you can stop things from getting worse.

Q: Why should I pay to talk to a counselor when I can talk to my friends about my problems?

A: Friends can certainly help, but counselors can do many things that friends cannot. Counselors are specially trained and experienced in helping people solve problems, change how they act or think, and learn new ways of doing things. Counselors have probably worked with many people with problems like yours. They also don't talk to others about things you have said or done, and you can feel free to talk about anything. For example, imagine talking to a friend about your decision whether to take a job out of state. Your friend wants you to stay around, so he might not offer you the best advice.

Q: It seems like therapy is just for people who have a lot of money.

A: Not if we can help it! Many local therapists give their time with the Connections program to provide counseling services to people with low incomes. We can also help you find a therapist who takes your insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, or who can lower their fees to help you.

Counseling may actually be more important for people with low incomes. Research has shown that the higher amount of stress that comes from not having enough money to live on may be related to mental health issues. This could be prevented by having good mental health care and support.

Q: Counseling sounds like a lot of talk. I need real help for my problems.

A: Counseling is much more than talk. Counselors can help you learn new skills to deal with problems. They can help you find resources and services. And they can be there to support and guide you. For example, someone who has a hard time meeting friends might work with their counselor to practice ways to start conversations with people. Someone who has a hard time with decisions might be taught a new skills to help with decision-making. A person who is depressed might learn about medications and ways of changing their depressed thoughts.

Q: Won't a counselor just tell me what to do?

A: No, good counselors won't tell you what to do. Instead, they will help you figure out what is right for you. You will make the decisions.

Q: I don't have the time to be in counseling. How long will this take?

A: You can choose how often you see your counselor. Counseling usually takes only an hour per week or every other week. You continue to see your counselor only for as long as you feel it is helpful.

Q: What if I don't know what to say to my counselor?

A: Many people are worried about this before they try counseling. Counselors know how to help people put things into words and to talk about their feelings. Even if you sometimes don't have much to say, counselors understand that. There are also counselors who use art therapy or music therapy, which can help when you can’t put things into words. For children, who may not know how to express themselves, play therapy is often used.

Q: I've got a lot of issues to work on. I'm afraid I'll fail.

A: Going to a counselor is a very brave step. Just reaching out to someone is a huge success. Even if you learn only one helpful thing from counseling, it will be worth it.

Q: What if my counselor doesn't like me?

A: A counselor may not like what you do, but chances are he or she will still like you. This is part of being a good counselor. Very rarely, if counselors find that they aren't able to give a client the best care because they aren't a good match, they will find another counselor for the client.

Q: What if my counselor has never heard of my problem?

A: Counselors are trained to know about most mental health, substance use, and general life issues. If a counselor doesn't know about your problem, he or she will refer you to someone who does. Also, using a referral service like Mental Health Connections can help you find a therapist who either specializes in your issue(s) or knows enough about your needs to be able to help you.

Q: What if I don't feel comfortable with my counselor?

A: Remember that your counseling is for you. If you don't feel comfortable with your therapist or the way counseling is going, you should talk to your counselor about it. In fact, talking about whether the counseling is helpful, how well you and the counselor work together, and what your next steps are should be are important parts of counseling. If your counselor doesn't do these things, you should talk to your counselor about this. You should also feel free to find another therapist.

Q: Where do I go to find a good therapist who is right for me?

A: Like all healthcare providers, mental health therapists have specialties that include which issues they know the most about and who they are most experienced working with (adults, children, teens, and so forth). Just picking the first name you find online is not the best way to find a good counselor.

Connections provides referrals to area mental health and substance use providers, agencies, support groups, and classes. We can help you learn about all of your options for treatment. We can help you make a better choice of therapist by telling you about a therapist’s training, the way they approach therapy and special areas of experience. You can "shop around" for a therapist who is a good match for your needs by calling counselors and asking some questions before seeing them. Most therapists will answer your questions over the phone or in an initial visit about their background and how they tend to work with clients. Some offer the first visit for free to help you decide if you want to work with them.

Q: How do I find out more about Mental Health Connections?

A: Call 970-221-5551 or walk in to our offices at 425 W. Mulberry St., Suite 101, in Fort Collins. We are open from 8:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays, and walk-ins are seen until 4:00pm. Our services are free and private. In an emergency, call 911.

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