Overcoming barriers to professional counseling

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Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2013 7:00 pm

(BPT) - When it comes to seeking professional counseling for mental health issues, there are numerous barriers that prevent people from receiving the help they want and need.

According to a recent University of Phoenix survey, more than a quarter of Americans have received professional counseling services for everything from mood disorders (such as depression and anxiety) and relationship and child behavior issues to behavior modification and personality disorders. The survey also found that many individuals who sought professional counseling encountered a variety of barriers that kept them from receiving these services. Some barriers include: financial/health insurance coverage, doubts surrounding effectiveness of counseling, comfort level with a counselor and uncertainty around where to go to seek counseling. Perhaps surprising, the social stigma associated with professional counseling ranked low on the list of barriers.

“While significant progress has been made to educate the public about the benefits of counseling and remove associated stigma, much still needs to be done to help individuals overcome barriers that prevent them from receiving professional counseling,” says Leslie Baker, a licensed marriage and family therapist and lead faculty member for University of Phoenix College of Social Sciences. “Recent incidents around the country have emphasized the need for professional counseling – both for those suffering from and those affected by mental issues. Professional counseling provides a safe environment where individuals can work through challenges, set specific goals and gain different perspective.”

The reasons people seek professional counseling are as diverse and personal as the individuals themselves. Issues including trauma, workplace challenges and even the effects of social media on mental health are just some of the topics students discuss in counseling classes at University of Phoenix. In addition to learning how to better familiarize themselves with the current issues that may cause an individual’s problems, students learn how to identify the right type of counseling.

Baker offers these tips to help individuals find counselors who suit their needs:

1. Determine what type of practitioner you need to see. Professionals providing counseling for mental health concerns include clinical mental health and licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, clinical social workers and psychiatrists.

2. Research whether the professional is licensed in the state where he or she practices. Most states have a website where clients can verify the status of a licensed professional.

3. Obtain a referral from your primary care physician, an online referral resource or other source such as a family member or friend.

4. Speak directly to the practitioner by phone or in-person to determine if he or she is a good fit. Many professionals offer a free, short phone or in-person consultation. Questions to ask during this time include:

* What is your scope of practice?

* How long have you been practicing?

* What type of training have you completed in this specific treatment area?

* What is your general approach to treating this concern?

* How long does treatment usually last?

* How will you measure progress toward treatment goals?

With the White House and Congress addressing issues of mental health through education programs and legislation paired with the growing number of individuals embracing professional counseling, careers are on the rise.

Employment for mental health counselors is expected to grow 36 percent between 2010 and 2020 (41 percent for marriage and family therapists), a much higher growth anticipation than other career fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on University of Phoenix degree programs, visit www.phoenix.edu.

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