Why do people seek counseling?

There seems to be a misconception that needing counseling = crazy. But this is far from true. There are a number of reasons why people may seek counseling.

Most people who come to therapy are in crisis. Something happened and now they have an overwhelming problem that is beyond their capacity to cope. Frequently these crises include losses: loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, job loss, etc. Other crises include abuse, victimization, trauma, an episode of mental illness, a diagnosis of physical illness or disability, addiction, or a stressful situation that has reached the breaking point.

Some people come to counseling when they are in transition and either need help adjusting or would like to proactively approach their new situation. Major life transitions include leaving home and adjusting to adulthood, choosing a career, preparing for marriage, becoming a parent, coping with an illness or disability, or transitioning to retirement. Career counseling, premarital/couples/family counseling, skill development (e.g., assertiveness training, anger management, stress management, parenting), finding resources, and identifying supports can be helpful during these transition periods. Some in this group may also seek counseling as a “tune-up” to make sure their relationships are healthy and their lives are on track to meet their goals.

In contrast, other people may come to counseling because they’re feeling stuck: they keep repeating the same bad relationships or the same bad decisions or the same emotional rollercoaster rides. They feel powerless to make different decisions or change their situation; they aren’t progressing, and life seems to be passing them by.

For many people, counseling can help in the process of forming an identity or making life decisions. A counselor can be a sounding board to help one identify and try out options, clarify feelings and priorities, consider choices and consequences, and teach decision-making processes and problem-solving techniques.

During the course of therapy, people often develop greater self-knowledge. Some people come to therapy specifically to explore the past, process feelings, reflect on their lives, and make meaning of their experiences. Others make discoveries about themselves in the course of dealing with other issues they want to work on.

Finally, counseling can provide emotional and social support. This might include connecting to community resources and developing healthy relationships and strong support networks. In addition, a good therapy group can offer a sense of belonging and the empathy born of first-hand experience. Seeing peers working through similar challenges can offer hope and encouragement and can be a powerful motivator for change.

While this list of reasons to seek counseling is by no means exhaustive, it is clear that counseling can be a useful resource for dealing not only with crises and major mental illness, but with many problems and issues common to the human condition.

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