You may already know that counseling is different from any other kind of professional or personal relationship. But it’s pretty easy to be confused about what counseling looks like in real life, thanks to a lot of unrealistic Hollywood portrayals of counselors and therapists.
I’d like to offer some insight into what counseling means and how it can help people address problems or reach their personal goals. Here are my responses to some of the most common questions about what therapy is like.
What exactly does a counselor do? Are you going to just listen to me talk about feelings or give me advice about my problems?
That all depends on your preference and what type of issues you’re focusing on, but I generally try to take an active role in helping my clients. This usually means that I ask a lot of questions and encourage people to talk about their entire experience, including thoughts, emotions, sensations, beliefs, ideas, and so on. I offer interpretations, information, and suggestions. If someone really wants advice, I am happy to try to provide specific guidance in decision-making, but I make it clear whether the advice is coming from personal experience or professional expertise.
Is a counseling session like what I see on TV or in the movies? Will I have to tell you about my childhood?
Most media portrayals of counselors, therapists, or psychologists show either someone who is reserved and formal, or someone who is very emotionally intense. Personally, I tend to be casual and easy to connect with. I try to balance emotional intensity with a lot of humor and jokes. People often expect counselors to just nod their heads, look concerned, and say things like “And how does that make you feel?” or “Tell me more about that.” I certainly say those things sometimes, but I’m also very active in the session, asking pointed questions, exploring ideas, and offering my insights. I also provide information about how the mind works and teach mindfulness techniques that clients can use in their lives outside of the therapy office. You won’t necessarily have to talk about your childhood or past relationships, although it can be helpful to look at those experiences to notice patterns.
How is counseling different from just confiding in a friend? Why should I pay someone to listen to me talk?
With a counselor, unlike with a friend, you don’t have to worry about “being too needy” or being judged. You don’t have to worry about whether you’re hogging the conversation or not being a good friend. You don’t have to worry about whether your secrets are going to become gossip—a counselor is required by law to protect confidentiality. Counselors also have advanced training and clinical experience in identifying what is healthy vs. unhealthy, “normal” vs. abnormal. As a counselor, I have years of practice in specific ways of listening, empathizing, and caring, and I can teach you concrete tools that you can use to relieve suffering and create lasting change in your life. I may also give you something to work on between sessions, whether it’s a book to read, a new behavior to try, or just something to think about.
Am I required to be really motivated and have it all together before I can be in counseling?
I really enjoy working with clients who are highly motivated and ready to do the work that their goals require. I have some clients who are like that, and we make good progress together. But not all my clients are in that position right away, and that’s okay. As long as you’re willing to be honest with yourself and with me, I can help you. Part of my role is to help you find what motivates you to make progress on your goals. I help my clients understand themselves and their challenges more clearly by seeing the fears, needs, and unacknowledged desires that hold them back. I help them see the choices they have to make and the sacrifices those choices involve. When they’re ready, I have tools and techniques to help them get through the hard parts of those changes. But it all depends on their readiness and willingness to do the work.
Who decides what the therapeutic goals are, me or you? How soon will I start to see improvement in my problems?
Counseling is always collaborative with me. I’m happy to work with clients toward almost any goal. When I make suggestions, it is always based on what the client has already told me about what they want. How long it takes to achieve goals depends entirely on the goals themselves and your readiness for change to happen. I’ve had clients show improvement or noticeable progress almost immediately, and I’ve had clients for whom it takes months to begin moving toward their goal. But almost everyone feels better in some way within the first couple of sessions. When you are with someone who listens well and truly cares about your concerns, you will feel more confident and less alone.
Do I have to tell you my entire life story the first time I meet you? What should I do to prepare for the first counseling session?
You will be in control of what you share during our first meeting, keeping in mind that it’s helpful for me to understand the context of your concerns. I want to know about your motivations, your hopes, your needs, and the things that have so far been holding you back. I’ll also be asking questions about your fears and concerns related to the counseling process, and about things that might make it difficult for us to make progress together. To prepare for the first meeting, I encourage you to think about what you want to get out of our work together. When the work is finished, how will you be different? How will life feel different? What are you hoping that our work together will accomplish that you haven’t been able to achieve on your own? What is motivating you to make these changes now?
Will I be able to tell right away if you’re the right counselor for me? What happens if one of us thinks it isn’t a good fit?
Yes, you’ll know very quickly if I am the right counselor to work with you. It’s almost always obvious during the initial consult whether it’s a good fit, at least in terms of the relationship itself. On occasion it becomes clear after a few sessions that the client needs a practitioner with different skills or tools, and if happens, I try to help them find the right person to meet that need.
Will I have to do a ton of paperwork before we meet the first time?
I do a free consultation the first time I meet with a prospective client, and I will use this time to do a basic assessment of your needs and goals. During this first visit, I will also offer you a sense of who I am and how I’m going to approach your goal or problem. Between the consult and the first real session, I will ask you to fill out some paperwork that includes an intake questionnaire. The questionnaire gathers information about different parts of your life and helps me have a better sense of your general health, habits, relationships, interests, and other significant aspects of your life.
What would I gain from working with you specifically instead of another therapist? How are you different from other counselors in Denver?
I have an unusually varied background and life experience that enables me to build a relationship with my clients easily and quickly. Research shows that this relationship between the client and the therapist is the most important factor in making counseling effective. I’ve lived in a lot of different places, including overseas as a child, and interacted with people from many different cultures. I’ve also done a number of different things professionally over the course of my life. I adapt myself to my clients so that they feel comfortable, understood, and respected, regardless of whether they’re a CEO, a musician, or a plumber. I believe in the effectiveness of insight-based, motivational counseling that offers real tools for change.
Denver counselor Gideon Killion shares some insights about the impact of anxiety.
We all have moments of anxiety in certain situations, whether it’s a performance review at work or waiting to hear the results of a medical test. But for some of us, it goes beyond that, with anxiety showing up much more often and in more ordinary situations. When it does, this kind of anxiety can have a real impact on your relationships and work (not to mention your ability to enjoy life). If this sounds like it might be you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 18% of Americans over 18 have experienced the effects of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something that I have struggled with, so I know what it’s like. I’d to share with you some of the signs of anxiety to watch out for, as well as what you can do to get a handle on it.
Signs of anxiety to watch out for
Here are some of the most common signs that anxiety is interfering with your optimal functioning. One or two of these experiences could be due to other factors, but if you find that multiple items are relevant to you right now, anxiety could be the culprit.
Things to watch for at work:
- You have intrusive thoughts about your own shortcomings, in which any mistake becomes a catastrophe.
- You avoid normal interactions with people, such as by procrastinating on returning voicemails.
- You feel overwhelmed, “out of control,” or like you can’t cope with job expectations.
- You are extremely nervous about meetings, presentations, etc., to the point of having physical symptoms (such as nausea) or being unable to participate.
- You find yourself arriving late or leaving early in order to minimize the time spent at work.
Things to watch for in your close relationships:
- You feel annoyed by or suspicious of the other person with no particular trigger, or your reaction seems out of proportion to what the other person has done.
- You make excuses to be alone rather than with the other person (for example, saying that you don’t feel well or have to work late).
- You are rarely able to relax with your partner or have fun together.
- You are so focused on your own thoughts or worries that you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner.
- You have feelings of dread or pessimism about the relationship, even though it has previously felt stable and supportive.
If several of these descriptions apply to your experience in a relationship or at work, you may be seeing the side effects of anxiety.
Things that Don’t Help When You’re Anxious
It may be hard to know what to do when anxious feelings come up. These are a few of the most common — but also least effective— responses to anxiety.
Ignoring it: For many people, the natural tendency in trying to cope with anxious feelings is to minimize or deny the problem. You may find yourself hoping that anxiety symptoms will just go away on their own. What often happens, though, is that trying to ignore anxiety can make it worse—either more frequent or more intense.
Isolating: A common side effect of anxiety is self-consciousness. You may worry that you’re acting strangely around others (or that they will guess how anxious you’re feeling). Although trying to stay away from others provides a short-term solution to this problem, isolating yourself can make coping with anxiety more difficult in the long term.
Self-medicating: It’s tempting to use alcohol or drugs to take the edge off your anxiety symptoms, but they come with their own problems, like dependency. There are healthier ways to address the problem.
Handling anxiety on your own
If mild anxiety is having a negative effect on relationships or causing problems at work, you may be able to counter it simply by providing yourself with in-the-moment techniques to reduce anxiety right away. Here are a few things that can be immediately useful at times when you notice you are feeling anxious:
Count blue things. It sounds ridiculous, but this simple trick can be very effective in calming your nervous system. Look around the room and silently identify each thing you see that’s blue: “the spine of a blue book, a blue highlighter, two people wearing blue shirts.” This technique works because it tricks your brain into shifting gears and focusing on a cognitive task.
Listen to the ticking of a clock or analog watch. This has a soothing effect for most people because a clock ticks at about the same speed as your own normal resting heart rate. You don’t even need an actual clock or watch—a virtual one will do. Search for “ticking clock” on YouTube, or download an app like G Clock that replicates the sound of the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Engage in proprioceptive actions. Proprioception refers to your own physical sense of your body in relation to the things around it. Thus, any action that involves proprioceptive input can help to calm your nervous system. This can be as simple as chewing gum, or as complex as playing a ball game like basketball or football in which your body comes in contact with the ball. Other simple proprioceptive techniques include squeezing a stress ball, pushing your palms against a wall, or eating a crunchy food like pretzels.
Getting help with your anxiety
When your anxious feelings don’t respond to the simple techniques listed above, or if you feel so anxious most of the time that you’re having difficulty functioning in your normal work and home routines, it’s a good idea to get professional help. Anxiety can be treated through counseling as well as through medication, or both.
A medical doctor, like your primary care physician, or a psychiatrist, can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe medication. It can take a few tries to get the right medication and the right dose, and all medications can have side-effects, so it’s important to stay in contact with your doctor during this process.
Counseling is also an effective treatment for anxiety, for most people. Simply talking to a counselor on a regular basis can be helpful for some people, but the treatment can also include things like uncovering subconscious thoughts and feelings, challenging or defusing intrusive thoughts, or practicing mindfulness and relaxation skills. If you are wondering whether counseling might be able to help you with your anxiety, I would be honored to talk to you. Please contact me and we’ll set up a free, 30-minute consultation at one of my Denver counseling locations.
Denver life coach, counselor, and therapist Gideon Killion shares some thoughts about make friends and improve your relationships.
Modern life can feel really lonely sometimes. It seems like we’re connected 24/7 to social media and our phones, but somehow that doesn’t always translate into a sense of being truly connected with others.
If you’re feeling a social disconnect and want to forge new friendships in real life, you may not be exactly sure how to begin. Here are some suggestions to get you started meeting new people.
Connect through Shared Interests
One of the most effective ways to make like-minded friends is to pursue an interest or hobby that involves other people. Whether you’re into foosball tournaments, car shows, or martial arts, there’s sure to be a group or event near you. Or you could take a class to try out a new skill, like improv or beginning guitar. I learned the hard way that many people are put off or intimidated by direct invitations to become friends. But friendships develop naturally when you’re doing things together.
When you find yourself in a social situation and aren’t sure what to say to someone, it always helps to get curious about them. Most people enjoy talking about themselves. Look for clues in their conversations about what they’re interested in, what they like to do, and what’s important to them so that you have an idea of where to start. If there are no clues offered, ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you do for work?” Then encourage them to provide more detail by asking a follow-up question like, “How’d you end up in that career?”
Build In Time to Meet People
We have a tendency to over-schedule ourselves these days, always rushing to the next meeting or errand. This makes it unlikely that we’ll have time for genuine interactions with anyone outside our usual sphere of work and home. You can change this by deliberately building in time around your activities so that you can meet and talk to people. Arrive early for appointments so that you have an opportunity to chat with someone in the waiting room. When you’re planning a trip to the gym or the grocery store, schedule some cushion time before and after so that you can start up a conversation if the chance arises.
Listen More, Talk Less
In a one-on-one conversation, it’s ideal to be talking about 40% of the time. This is the perfect ratio because it means you’re mostly listening, but you’re also doing enough sharing of your own that the other person can get to know you. If you find yourself talking more than this in a conversation with a new acquaintance, you can shift the balance by asking them a question.
Keep It Positive
Do as little complaining, criticizing, or arguing as you can. It’s also a good idea to keep sarcasm or dark humor to a minimum until you really get to know someone. (This is a place I often over do it!) Even when you do know someone, it’s wise to keep it balanced. Most people want to spend time with someone who is pleasant and positive overall. If you make someone uncomfortable by going too negative, they may avoid hanging out with you in the future.
Share Things Slowly
It’s great to find friends we can be honest with about things that are difficult. On the other hand, it’s tempting to dive in way too soon. Do share your troubles, but wait until you’ve developed some trust. Plan to share at first in small doses, and try to give the other person the chance to do the same with you. It should feel like an even exchange, and the amount of detail or heavy emotion you share is generally going to be comparable to the length of time you’ve known someone.
Pay Your Own Way
This is a simple one, but it’s one that many people overlook, and it’s powerful. In short, always pay your fair share at restaurants, parties, and so on. People will remember if you don’t. Along the same lines, it may feel awkward to new acquaintances if you offer to pick up the check, since the social norm is to stay on equal footing with people you don’t know well. The safest tactic is to expect that everyone will split the bill.
Check Your Skills
If you’re not sure whether your behavior may be a little off, ask for feedback about your social skills from people you know and trust. Tell them you’re looking for constructive criticism so that you can improve anything that might be scaring off new friends.
Remember that It’s Hard for Everyone
Sometimes socializing is just going to feel awkward. Those awkward moments don’t mean you’re doing it wrong; they just mean you’re human. It happens to everyone, even folks who are good at it.
If you think you might need more in-depth assistance with social skills or other friendship issues, give me a call to learn whether counseling or coaching at one of my Denver offices would be able to help. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy learning (sometimes the hard way) how we make and keep friends, and I’d love to share what I’ve learned with you. Contact me to arrange a free consultation and find out how I can help.
Many men have a feeling that something is missing, or have a longing for something more. Some may even have a sense of what is missing, but feel trapped by commitments, responsibilities, or practical realities. For others, though, the dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, or stuckness shows up in symptoms like anger, depression, anxiety, or addictions.
If you struggle with some of these things, it may be a sign that you have an unacknowledged and unmet need. By identifying what is missing or needed, and figuring out how to find it, you may end up resolving other issues.
Sometimes we hesitate to ask for help on problems like this. I get it—I’ve been in that place of not wanting to admit vulnerability or struggle. I thought I should be able to handle it on my own. What I came to realize is that there are so many other areas of life where we enlist help to get us where we want to be, from finances to fitness. It just makes sense to save time and frustration on personal struggles, too, by collaborating with someone who can provide a better toolkit for getting what you want.
I know what it’s like to feel stuck, and to know that change is needed but not know what direction to move in. That personal experience is part of what led me to begin providing therapy for men in Denver. I’ve taken on a personal quest of sorts—to figure out not only what I needed, but what most men need in order to be happy and fulfilled.
This is not to say that we can or even should get exactly what we want. But, to borrow an idea from the Rolling Stones, we can usually get what we need. Yes, each of us is unique, and we don’t all want the same things. But most of our desires are representative of deeper, more basic and fundamental needs that all humans share.
In fact, I’ve created a list of 10 fulfillment factors to summarize those fundamental needs. This list is distilled from significant influences that have shaped my approach to counseling for men, including Sebastian Junger, “Tribe”; William Glasser’s “Choice Theory”; Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”; and the work of Tony Robbins.
The 10 Fulfillment Factors:
- Belonging (to be part of a group)
- Purpose (bigger than yourself; or meaning)
- Significance (to know you matter)
- Identity (to know who you are)
- Mastery (or competence)
- Control (or autonomy, power, freedom)
- Stability (or certainty, safety)
- Variety (or uncertainty, fun)
- Love (to be someone’s priority)
- Hope (that the future is as good or better than the present)
Once these basic needs are understood, it is much easier to figure out how to meet them. You could get there on your own with years of work. Or you can take the direct route to a fulfilled and purposeful life by enlisting a professional helper.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you find yourself fantasizing about a different career, or even a different life?
- Do you feel trapped or held back by some part of your life?
- Are you disappointed in how life turned out?
- Do you feel like you were made for more than this?
- Do you sometimes wonder what the point of your life is, or whether you matter?
- Do you wonder why you aren’t as happy as other people seem to be?
If you’re not satisfied with your life, and you aren’t sure why (or what to do about it), or if it’s something you’ve tried to change and haven’t been able to, then it may be time to let someone help you. Click here to learn more about counseling or life coaching for men in Denver.
I think a lot of people wonder from time to time whether they need counseling. But there are a lot of barriers — cost, time, fear, shame — that keep them from giving the question the attention it deserves. I thought it would be a good topic to write about for peoplehouse.org, where I have been guest blogging since July.
Take a look and let me know what you think. I have been told it’s pretty funny.
Since July, I have been guest-blogging for peoplehouse.org on topics that will be helpful to people who want to know more about counseling. Here are links to the different posts. I hope you find them useful.
– Lasting change requires action and experience, not just knowledge.
– A little information to help you choose.
– It works, but it depends on you.
– A little information to help you choose.
– It doesn’t seem as scary when you know what to expect.
– So many options – how do you choose?
– Maybe it can help you!
Take a look and let me know what you think!
Anyone who has tried to change something big in life — such as giving up a bad habit, or starting a good one — knows that it isn’t easy. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, and a quick Google search will probably reveal plenty. But one thing that makes it harder is that we often do not see the whole picture. We do not see all the things that we get out of the status quo — things we would lose if change actually happened.
A while back, I was working with a couple in marriage counseling. The big problem in this couple’s relationship was the male partner’s alcohol addiction. His wife wanted him to quit drinking, and he said he wanted to quit, too. Yet over and over, she discovered that he had been drinking and lying about it. We met a number of times, talking about wounds from his past, poor self-esteem, and so on, but after a while, it became clear that under the surface, probably unconsciously, he did not want to change. Promising to change but not actually doing it was actually working well for him.
The costs of the status quo were obvious — pain, shame, fights, fear of losing the relationship. But the benefits of the status quo — and the costs of change — were not. Every time he wept and apologized, and promised to do better, his wife would flood him with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. She would tell him how much she believed in him, and how much good she saw in him. Now, obviously there is absolutely nothing wrong with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. But counter-intuitively, his pattern of alcohol addiction had become a very effective means of getting them. And on top of that, he got to keep drinking.
Now, I am certainly not saying that this was the reason for his addiction, or that the addiction ended when the whole picture came into focus. Overcoming substance addiction is usually a long and difficult road. But this man could not begin to walk down that road until both he and his wife saw what he was getting out of staying where he was.
In addition to the types of professionals we have already described, there are some other types of professionals who can practice psychotherapy or work as counselors.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers
This type of licensed professional, often known as an LCSW, must meet requirements that are similar to the LPC, and LMFT, described in a previous post. They have completed a graduate degree in clinical social work, passed a licensing examination, and gathered a certain number of supervised clinical hours. They provide the same kinds of counseling and psychotherapy as LPCs and LMFTs.
This type of licensed professional has completed a doctoral level degree in psychology, either a PhD or PsyD. They have also passed a licensing examination and gathered a certain number of supervised clinical hours. They can provide the same kinds of counseling and psychotherapy as LPCs and LMFTs. Their more extensive training also allows them to conduct more extensive psychological assessment.
Certified Addiction Counselors
These professionals, also known as CACs, are trained to provide counseling focused on substance addiction and abuse. There are three levels of CAC certification, which require progressively higher levels of training and experience.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialized in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. They are the only type mental health professional who can provide counseling / psychotherapy AND prescribe medication. If your counselor or psychotherapist believes you could benefit from medication, he or she may suggest that you contact either a general practitioner or a psychiatrist.
As we said in the previous post, Colorado is unique in the US in that it does not require professional psychotherapists to be licensed, provided they have registered with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs. However, counselors, psychotherapists, and other professionals who meet the necessary requirements can practice under various licenses and certifications issued by the state.
Licensed Professional Counselor
In Colorado, a licensed professional counselor, sometimes called an LPC, has i) finished a graduate degree (masters level or higher) in Counseling that meets certain state requirements, ii) passed a national examination, and after graduation, iii) completed a certain amount of supervised work with clients. LPCs can practice psychotherapy or counseling with individuals, groups, couples, and families. The main professional organization that represents LPCs is the American Counseling Association, or ACA. This organization also creates the ethical standards for LPCs. Someone who has completed the required graduate degree but who is still working toward the other requirements for licensing can register as a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
This type of licensed psychotherapist, often known as an LMFT, must meet requirements that are very similar to the LPC, described above. In fact, the same degree may meet the requirements for both licenses, and some professionals acquire both. In addition, an LMFT and an LPC are allowed to practice all of the same activities. The primary difference is that LMFTs are represented by a different professional organization, known as the American Family Therapy Association, that maintains its own (similar) ethical standards.
Next: Part 3
Denver has most of the counseling and psychotherapy options that you would expect to find in a reasonably-sized, US city. So what are those options? What kinds of counseling are available?
First, it is worth describing the basic types of professionals who can legally practice counseling in Colorado.
This state is unique in the US in that Colorado allows people to practice psychotherapy without proving that they have any relevant training and without going through a licensing process, provided they first register with the regulatory agency that oversees the profession, known as DORA (Department of Regulatory Affairs). A registered psychotherapist could be an experienced, well-trained practitioner, or quite the opposite, so it is important to ask about his or her qualifications. Many registered psychotherapists are counselors who are still in the process of completing the requirements for one of the licenses issued by DORA. Others may be professionals whose training, education, or experience does not qualify for one of these licenses. Regardless, it is always a good idea to ask about credentials, training, and experience when you begin working with a psychotherapy professional, and by law you have a right to receive that information.
Next: Part 2 (coming soon)