Ernest S. Schmidt, LCSW
Often clients or prospective clients will ask me, “Do I need counseling?” I am sure this question comes up for many people, and most people who ask it are hoping for a simple answer of yes or no. But the answer often isn’t simple, and in my experience it’s useful to rephrase the question and think about it from a few different angles.
Can I Benefit from Counseling?
Perhaps the first question to ask yourself or a professional is “Can I benefit from counseling?” This is much easier to answer: If your mood is lower than you prefer, if you have habits you would like to stop or get a better handle on, if you are held back by anxiety or it causes you distress, if you find your relationships in conflict, or if you are struggling in your life due to depression, then yes, therapy can greatly benefit you. But it’s important to realize that therapy requires your active participation and it has to be something you want to do if you’re going to benefit from it.
Do I Want Counseling?
I think this is a better question than “Do I need counseling?” I usually think of a need as something that is required or necessary, while a want is something that is desired. If you want something, you will probably be willing to put forth some effort to get it, and this is an important aspect of therapy. Therapy is not like having surgery or taking a pill; it can bring significant relief and hope, but it is not passive. It requires ongoing effort on your part—effort that I believe is worthwhile, though it can be challenging. Because counseling has so much to do with your willingness to work and make significant changes in your life, needing counseling is not enough—you have to want it.
Am I Willing to Work with My Therapist?
Next, it’s important to recognize that truly effective therapy involves a partnership between therapist and client. A skilled therapist can guide you and offer techniques to significantly improve your mood and your life, but you will need to be an active participant in the process. Just passively talking for an hour a week or expecting the therapist to solve your problems for you will likely leave you disappointed. To experience the kind of substantial growth and positive change that is possible with counseling, you will need to openly discuss what is bothering you. You will also need to commit to working with your therapist to create homework each week to actively improve your situation and mood, spend time thinking about your counseling meetings and reviewing what you worked on, and be open to accepting help and guidance along the way. If this sounds like hard work, it is, but the outcome is worth the effort.
Counseling is almost always beneficial if you have something you want help with and are motivated enough to do the work. When put into practice, the techniques are powerful and life-changing, and good therapy can produce amazing rewards. I am disappointed when people who are held back by anxiety, depression or other struggles choose not to enter therapy. It is unfortunate that many people go through life tormented by emotional or mental health problems, when truly effective help is so readily available. So ask yourself today if you want therapy and if you’re willing to put in the effort it requires; doing so can be the first step towards transforming your life.
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