You are reading the final part of a 3-part blog series.  If you’re new here, you can catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2.

Welcome back!  You’ve decided counseling might be for you.  That realization is a big step!  Whether you have no idea where to begin or you haven’t seen a counselor in a while, this post is designed to answer some of the most common questions you might have as you start or continue your search.

How do I find a counselor? 

There are several ways to go about finding a counselor in your area.  Maybe you have a friend or family member who sees a counselor.  I suggest you have a conversation with that person and find out what they like about their counselor.  Ask questions like, “How has counseling helped you?”  “What do you do in your sessions?”  “What should I look for when trying to find a counselor?”  Chances are, if you’re talking to someone you trust, you’ll be able to grab hold of something they say and take the next step to find the best counselor for you.  You can visit websites like Psychology Today, Thumbtack, and Theravive, or you can do a general Google search for counselors in your area.

What do those letters mean after their name? 

Yes, there are a lot of letters, and even though you may see them often, you may not know what they mean.  Here’s a short summary:

  • LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor – this person has graduated from an accredited Master’s program or higher and has passed the required exams to obtain licensure in his or her state.  He or she has also completed the minimum number of clinical hours required to receive LPC status.
  • PLPC – Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor – this person is currently under the supervision of an LPC and in progress of completing the required number of clinical hours for licensure.  For the state of Missouri, someone with PLPC status has to complete 3,000 clinical hours in no less than 2 years and no more than 5 years.
  • Counselor-in-Training (CIT) or Intern – All Master’s students have to complete a practicum and/or internship in order to graduate and apply for PLPC status.  If you have the opportunity to see an Intern, you will most likely not pay for services or pay a minimal fee, and that person will receive ongoing supervision throughout their clinical hours.
  • LCSW – LCSW stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  He or she most likely completed higher education in the field of social work but has been trained in counseling and is well-equipped to practice as a clinical counselor.
  • LMFT – Similar to both LCSW and LPC, someone operating with a LMFT license has training in marriage and family therapy.  As you can probably tell by now, the main difference in the credentials following a counselor’s last name primarily rests in the type of educational program he or she completed.
  • Psychologist – A psychologist may practice as a counselor, a researcher of social sciences, or both.  Counselors may write and/or contribute to research articles, but may not participate in conducting the research.  Both psychologists and counselors listen to you and help to identify the emotions that are present underneath your life stories and circumstances.  A psychologist may be more focused on direct treatments to improve your mental health; a counselor takes the approach of helping you determine your best course of action in therapy.

How do I know if the counselor I make an appointment with is the best person for me?  

Great question!  You may not know the answer to this question right away.  Chances are, you’ll get a general feeling if you’re able to talk to the counselor on the phone as you make the appointment.  More comprehensively, the first appointment is designed for both you and the counselor to begin to build a relationship and to see if it’s a “good fit.”  I hear a lot, “I don’t think I’m comfortable with my counselor, but I don’t want to leave and hurt their feelings.”  Hear me on this one — you won’t hurt our feelings.  We get it!  We’re human, too.  We know personalities don’t always mesh, and my hope is if your counselor is just not the best fit for you, he or she will help you find someone else with whom you may be more comfortable.  You are very right to keep looking for someone who “gets you.”

Is counseling covered by my insurance?

Each counseling practice has their own fee structure.  Some counselors and practices file with your insurance company to help offset the cost of therapy sessions.  Some organizations require payment at the time of service and may offer a sliding scale in order to meet your financial needs.  At IMFE, we do not file insurance for our clients, but we do provide documentation to submit to your insurance company in case they provide you reimbursement for your sessions.  I recommend you call your insurance company and ask for a list of in-network and out-of-network providers and go from there.  We are always happy to answer insurance and billing-related questions.  Give us a call at 573-228-6702.

If insurance does not cover my visits, how much does each session cost? 

Once again, this answer is specific to the counselor and/or practice you visit.  For example, at IMFE, we see couples for a slightly longer first session which may cost more than an ongoing session.  Some counselors charge different rates based upon experience and credentials.  As you’re reading about the counselors at our practice, each person has his or her fees listed along with whether or not they are accepting new clients.

Are you going to diagnose me? 

One of the reasons we do not file with your insurance company is so we can adequately meet your counseling needs without delivering diagnoses.  Does this mean we do not diagnose at all?  No.  However, we believe that while some people may benefit from a diagnosis, others may feel the pressure of a “label.”  There are so many factors (and stigmas!) associated with mental illness and mental health diagnoses, and I encourage you to discuss your thoughts and concerns with your counselor.  I appreciate the insight a diagnosis may give me in regards to providing good, quality care and treatment for my clients, and I also know each person is unique and deserves to be treated individually.

Did I just sign up for life-long counseling?

One of the things your counselor and you will do together is talk about the duration and frequency of your counseling journey.  Some clients feel such a relief after a few visits, their counseling treatment may be brief.  Other clients find seeing a counselor on a regular basis is comforting; they’re always aware of an upcoming visit with the counselor which enables them to tackle life’s hurdles with more confidence.  Like I talked about in previous articles, we all need a person.  Some of us may prefer to see our person for a longer time and more frequently than another person.  Neither preference is right or wrong.

A quick note about beginning couples therapy at IMFE with Lauren Eisleben: Lauren prefers to see couples for a minimum of 5 visits in order to establish a relationship with both partners and review family and couple history.

How does that make you feel?

            Yeah, I get it.  That question is what many people first think of when they consider seeing a counselor.  And if you have resisted making an appointment because you are just NOT a “feely” person, I understand!  You are not alone.  The reason counselors may ask you how you feel about a certain situation or life story does not come from a desire to torture you (even though it may feel like that).  Most times, we want to know what it’s like to live in your world!  We want you to know that we are in this together — good, bad, and ugly.  A counselor will listen to your apprehensions about expressing your feelings and do his or her best to make your experience more comfortable.  A good counselor knows your time is valuable and will respect the way you want to spend your hour with us.

Written by Lauren Eisleben