Many people feel anxious prior to beginning counseling - this is normal! It's difficult to open up to a complete stranger and talk about your deepest hurts, fears, problems and mistakes. Although every counselor is different in how they work with new clients, there are common principles and practices that a good counselor will use:
- Paperwork - I know, I know...it's boring and tedious! The initial barrage of paperwork (technically called "Intake Forms") ensure we keep accurate records and are compliant with HIPPA regulations. Good agencies will include a client questionnaire (also called a Psychosocial Assessment) where you provide some basic history and a brief explanation of the issues at hand.
- Consent to Treatment - It is standard practice to sign a "Consent Form" which indicates that you agree to obtain treatment from the counselor and/or agency.
- Notice of Privacy and Practice Rights - A document describing your rights as the client should be made available to you.
- Confidentiality - Counselors are ethically obligated to keep all of your information completely confidential. By law, we are mandated to breach confidentiality if we believe the client is a physical harm to themselves and/or to others, particularly in the case of minors. Additionally, if your records are subpoenaed we are legally obligated to turn them over to the authorities.
- Client Files - Counselors are mandated to keep a file on each of their clients, and these files are to be kept in a locked facility to ensure confidentiality. Clients are able to review their records at any time.
- Counseling Sessions - Most counselors hold weekly or bi-weekly sessions that are 45-60 minutes in length. You're probably wondering why counseling is so expensive if it's less than an hour! Truth is, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes: session preparation, treatment planning and updating session notes. The session cost includes all of the time involved in these areas.
- Counseling Duration - The counseling process can take as little as four weeks to as long as a lifetime. Everyone is different and will process through their issues at a different pace. Individuals with severe mental health issues or long-term illnesses are likely to need more time in counseling. A good therapist will check in with you periodically throughout the duration of counseling to monitor your progress and re-evaluate the therapeutic goals.