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We Can All Use a Little Help at Some Point in our Lives

Turn To: Time 4 a Change Counseling Center

February 28, 2008       Leave a Comment
By: Margo A. Charlebois - Therapy, Medicine

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We all can use "help" at some point. We may need some help insuring our home or our car. We may need help with planning for retirement. We may need a plumber or an electrician. There are countless "helping" professions from which we seek services throughout the course of our complex and busy lives. Where do we go when we need help coping with the complexities of our lives? What help is available when we need to sort through our emotions, improve our relationships, change problem behaviors, or just learn how to be the best we can be? Who do we turn to?

If you don't understand the similarities and differences between counselors, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, etc. you're not alone. People wonder about the difference in education or licensing requirements, who can prescribe medication, what will be involved with services/treatment, and so on. Hopefully this article will increase your knowledge and understanding of these types of helping professions. Please keep in mind that there aren't any absolutes in this discussion, there are always exceptions.

The American Counseling Association defines Professional Counseling as "the application of mental health, psychological or human development principles through cognitive, affective, behavioral, or systemic intervention strategies that address wellness, personal growth or career development as well as pathology". Translation: Professional Counselors will utilize what they have learned about individual mental health/illness, how humans develop and how they interact with others. Many Professional Counselors focus the help they provide on wellness and teaching coping strategies for dealing with and overcoming difficult thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and interactions. Professional Counselors may use a preventative approach, assisting those whose "symptoms" and/or issues are not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis.

The American Psychological Association defines a Clinical Psychologist as "an individual who has earned a doctorate in psychology and whose training is in the assessment and treatment of psychological problems", and a Psychiatrist as "an individual who has obtained an M.D. degree and also has completed postdoctoral specialty training in mental and emotional disorders; a psychiatrist may prescribe medications for the treatment of psychological disorders". These professionals are likely to perform their work from a medical model, examining symptoms, testing, determining diagnosis, and often looking to medications to stabilize and/or provide ongoing treatment of diagnosed mental illnesses. Usually, only those who can be diagnosed with mental illness will be treated by these professionals.

The National Association of Social Workers define Social Work practice as "the professional application of social work values, principles, and techniques to one or more of the following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families, and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services; and participating in legislative processes." The practice of social work requires knowledge of human development and behavior; of social and economic, and cultural institutions; and of the interaction of all these factors. Social workers are employed in many different settings. Some are trained to provide counseling or psychotherapy, others are helping people behind the scenes and not involved with direct service to individuals.

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My hope for readers is that when you seek help in the vast realm of "human services" that you run smack into a "no wrong door policy" anywhere you go. This means that the helpers you come into contact with will do their best to make sure you find your way to the professionals that can be of the most help for your particular needs. All of the above mentioned professionals are qualified to assess your needs and determine whether they can help or if you would be best served by the services of someone else. The important thing for everyone to remember is that it is important for you to feel comfortable and connected to the professional who is trying to help you. It may surprise you to learn that research shows that the structure, model, and/or technique a counselor/therapist uses contribute to only 15% of the change that occurs through treatment. There are at least 250 "models" of therapy these days and the research data finds that the different treatment approaches achieve roughly equivalent results.

What contributes the most to change? Interestingly enough, something called "extratherapeutic factors" account for 40% or the largest share of change. This means that things that happen in your life and things that you do before your first appointment and in between appointments are the largest contributors to change. Your relationship with the counselor/therapist accounts for 30%. A counselor who makes it a priority to discover and focus on the extratherapeutic change that takes place for his or her clients will enhance the contribution of that change. Gains come from the therapeutic relationship when you feel heard, understood, respected, and when the counselor works on and talks about the things that you want to work on and talk about.

The fourth factor involved with change is the placebo, hope, or expectancy factor. This factor, just as with model/technique, accounts for 15% of change. Just as with any professional you go to for help with your car, your insurance, your home repairs, or any other number of services, it is important that you feel comfortable and trust that a counselor/therapist understands the problem as you see it, understands what you want out of the service and strives to provide what you need. If the counselor "shoe" doesn't "fit" don't "wear" it, look for a different shoe. Your time and money and peace of mind is valuable and when you believe it's time for a change, "the time is now". Find someone who can help.

Please feel free to e-mail me with any comments or questions you have regarding this column.
Or Contact Margo Charlebois at:
807 E Midland St, Bay City, MI 48706
(989) 895-4420

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Margo A. Charlebois - Therapy, Medicine

Margo A. Charlebois is the owner of Time 4 a Change Counseling Center, has worked in the human services field for 20 years. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, State of MI - (LIC:6401007221)

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