Please note: Responses to the following questions are my own opinion and should not be construed as representative of all mental health professionals.
Q. What’s the difference between “counseling, ” “therapy” and “psychotherapy”?
They all imply that you talk to a mental health professional to help solve problems you are facing and, most of all, they all imply that you are confiding in a professional that cares about you! So in this sense there is no difference. Let’s say though that counseling refers to a short-term and very focused approach taken toward solving the client’s problems. Psychotherapy is instead more of a long-term (2+ years) and more in-depth treatment, where the professional aims to restructure the client’s personality. The term therapy is nowadays used to refer to both types of approaches, but it’s more correct when used as an abbreviation of psychotherapy.
Q. Will you think I’m crazy or judge me for what I think?
No! In fact, I have an enormous respect and admiration for whoever decides to begin counseling. It takes courage to leave our comfort zones and to try to change! I am by nature a non-judgmental person, receptive to new and different ideas or opinions of others. I can empathically place myself in somebody’s shoes, focusing on trying to understand my client’s condition from their perspective. I constantly strive to pass this onto my clients and welcome them in an environment where they feel understood and accepted for who they are.
Q. Will I fall apart if I start talking about upsetting memories and feelings?
It is certainly possible that you may cry or feel anxious or upset, but not in terms of having a “nervous breakdown”. Many people feel relieved after letting their feelings out during a session. Counseling involves change, which may feel threatening not only to you but also to people close to you. The prospect of giving up old habits, no matter how destructive or painful, can often make you feel very vulnerable. The process can include experiencing feelings like sadness, guilt, anxiety, anger, and fear and making changes that you did not originally intend. The freedom and relief experienced afterwards though, makes the whole process worth going through it!
Q. Can’t I just read a book, listen to self-help CDs, etc. and solve all my problems?
You certainly can try that and perhaps find professional material that helps you find the right motivation and strategies to face your problems. In my experience, although good material can provide people with some kind of support, it also tends to be too generic; in fact they will never be specific enough to the person’s particular situation and personality trait. In counseling on the other hand, clients get an ad-hoc treatment plan that fits those problems. It’s not uncommon that, during the treatment plan, client and counselor unveil something that lays behind the surface and find out that the real problem is to be found and addressed somewhere else, far from the original request
Q. Can’t I just put my problems behind me and move on?
You can certainly try that but it often doesn’t work if we are honest with ourselves. The same patterns unleashed by those problems can come back whenever life comes in the way one more time with its overwhelming moments, full of frustrations and stress. It’s like holding a glass of water for a long time, at first you wouldn’t even notice its heaviness, but with time it may become unbearable. Stress, anxiety, anger, depression, psychosomatic symptoms (such as stomach pain, headache, physical tiredness) tend to cumulate and overflow.
Q. How do I know if I need to start counseling?
When you feel that you have been cumulating all the feelings I mentioned above for way too long and that the strategies that you have tried to sort it all out didn’t work, that’s most likely the right time to contact a professional. There are of course other indicators suggesting you should get professional support, for example perceiving that the difficulty you are dealing with is too complex to be handles alone or just talked though with your friends; realizing that the problem is getting bigger by the day; realizing you are dealing with a recurrent problem and you want to solve it once and for all.
Q. What can I expect from the sessions?
In the first session, you will be asked to discuss about the reason bringing you to contact a mental health professional and a bit about your history. From that point onwards, I will seek to gain a clear understanding of what you want to work on, how and to what extent the issue gives you difficulty or concern on a regular basis, what factors led to the development of the issue (i.e. we’ll look together on how you perceived your family environment), and how we can address the issue in terms of working toward a solution clearly defining your goal(s).
Q. How do I know I can trust you and that what we discuss is private and confidential?
I shall safeguard the principle of confidentiality in all my dealings including the recording, storage, and dissemination of confidential information. I may disclose confidential information only with the permission of the individual or as mandated by law, or when permitted by law for a valid purpose, such as to protect the client or others from harm, or to obtain payment for services, in which instance disclosure is limited to the minimum necessary to achieve that purpose.
Q. What is your approach?
I have an integrative approach, which means that I put the person in the center. I do recognize that different individuals respond better to different approaches. We can find together the approach that we value as more suitable for who you are and work together toward an improvement of your current situation. For example we could decide to apply some (but not exclusively!) techniques from Transactional Analysis, CBT, Psychodynamic, Systemic, and Bodily approaches (I do have a preference for apply Transactional Analysis, being it by itself an integrated approach). In short, Transactional Analysis is a personality theory is based on the principle that, while coping with certain situations, people tend to repeat a “script” that is the experiences lived during childhood, which are continuously used as operative strategies, even though at times they turn out to be painful and dysfunctional. Each individual tends to follow patterns already drawn in order to feel more confident, limiting the possibility of a conflicting thought that can find solutions to old and new problems. The aim of this personality theory is to investigate behaviors of individuals within a relation, to understand the motivations behind uncomfortable feelings and identify the most suitable ways to avoid distress and live, as best as possible, in harmony. Of course, if at any point we feel that what I can offer is not what you are searching for, I can refer you to an alternative professional.