This Counseling Awareness Month, Learn How Counselors Can Help Clients

While larger-than-life celebrities can appear to have perfect lives, many are struggling through the same challenges millions of Americans face. In the documentary Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated, the outspoken singer opened up about her struggles with bulimia and anorexia, for which she attended therapy.

Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson revealed he experienced multiple bouts with depression around the time of his divorce, during a career transition and as a teenager, when he experienced trauma related to his mother’s suicidal ideations.  

“Battled that beast more than once,” Johnson tweeted to a fan experiencing his own struggles. “Us men [are too] prideful to ask for help. Speak up, ask for help and you’re never alone.”

Stories like these have helped bring attention to the healing power of counseling. For those dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, stress, coming out, trauma, suicidal ideations, eating disorders, substance abuse, and toxic relationships, counseling is often credited as the main way people are able to understand and cope with the emotions related to these issues. Some are hesitant to talk with a counselor due to the stigma associated with mental health issues. But counselors across the country, led by the American Counseling Association (ACA), are working to decrease stigma this April by sharing ways #CounselorsHelp.

Different words are used to refer to counseling, including therapy, treatment, or psychotherapy. Similarly, there are different kinds of licensed mental health providers, such as counselors, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists. We all diagnose and provide treatment to improve people’s lives. The most important factor relating to successful outcomes is the therapeutic relationship, or how you and your counselor interact. It is perfectly acceptable for you to talk with a mental health provider on the phone to see if it is a good fit before you commit to scheduling sessions.

However, counselors also help people deal with more than just mental health concerns. Counselors can help with decision-making and goal-setting around important developmental life events, such as graduating from school, changing careers, and beginning or ending relationships.

Ways Counselors Help

“Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals,” explains the ACAThis year's theme for Counseling Awareness Month is “A counselor can help with. . .”  Counselors help people by providing tools they can use throughout their lives when things get tough, which can help normalize problems. 

Here are 15 ways a counselor can help:

  1. Wellness
    Mental and physical wellness are key to feeling content, healthy and fulfilled. Counselors can help you understand what it means to live a balanced life and help develop plans for success through all stages of life.
  1. Depression
    People who feel depressed might not know where to turn for relief. Counselors can help by working with you to create daily plans to reduce depressive feelings and increase positivity and joy.
  1. Anxiety
    A constant feeling of worry and distress is typically associated with fear of a future event. Counselors can help you examine thoughts attached to anxiety and use cognitive restructuring to reduce it.
  1. Grief
    Losing a loved one hurts. Counselors can help you examine your feelings related to loss and help you understand your individualized reactions to loss.
  1. Suicidal thoughts
    Counselors can help people who feel helpless and hopeless by seeing their situations from a different perspective. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255. 
  1. Substance abuse
    The cycle of addiction can be very hard to break. Counselors can help you understand the societal and neurological aspects of addiction and help individuals and families through addiction treatment.
  1. Trauma
    Trauma occurs when you go through or witness an event that you believe was life threatening. The unpleasant emotions, including terror and sadness, related to that experience can be detrimental to your mental health. Counselors can help you process trauma like violence, natural disasters, and war.
  1. Sexual assault
    The #MeToo movement has shed light on the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct. Counselors can help you examine the aftermath of sexual assault or the sexual assault of friends and loved ones.
  1. Bullying
    Everybody deserves to feel safe. Counselors can help find ways to address bullying, which may involve exploring applicable laws related to bullying and cyberbullying.
  1. Self-esteem
    Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself — your body, your abilities, your image — and how you perceive yourself. Counselors can help you identify your strengths and appreciate your abilities. 
  1. Relationships
    Friendships, work interactions, and romantic relationships all require different skill sets. Counselors help people learn communication skills, past patterns, and desires so they can understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  1. Family
    Families have their ups and downs. Counselors help people understand family systems, different roles family members play, and ways to increase family functions.
  1. Professional performance
    People in high-performing careers, such as athletes, attorneys, surgeons, and executives, face enormous pressure to continuously perform successfully. Counselors can help you identify how to use your talents for ongoing and improved success. 
  1. Schooling
    For young adults starting college, picking an academic major can be daunting and stressful. Counselors can help by exploring individual values, beliefs, and talents as they relate to choosing a career path.
  1. Exercise
    Exercise is important for a healthy body and mind. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. A counselor can help motivate you to maintain your exercise routine by helping create individual plans based on your reasons for working out.

Thank you to everyone who speaks out and encourages people to seek counseling. It can be difficult to discuss personal issues publicly, but it helps decrease stigma and clear up the common misconception that some people live perfect lives. The more we discuss mental health and wellness, the more people will pick up the phone (or sign in) to talk with a counselor. That first phone call can be intimidating, but know that a caring counselor is waiting on the other end of the line to help you reach your goals.

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Citation for this content: Northwestern University's Online Masters in Counseling program.