By: Lisa Philippart

Have you ever wondered what mental health counseling was all about? Have you considered talking to a mental health professional, but never knew where to start, or were afraid of being judged? I have heard from so many of my clients who have stated that they wished they would have sought help sooner! I know the stigma of mental illness exists, but I also know that therapy options are available if you are willing to take that first step. Therapy is a broad term, but here it refers to any process or technique that modifies or improves someone’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. (And couldn’t we all use some help with this?) As a therapist, my goal is to utilize multiple approaches that provide my clients with the tools they need to enhance their overall well-being.

So, let’s say that you have decided to seek help. Before you ever enter a therapist’s office, you need to do your homework. The most important decision you will make is picking the therapist who is right for you. There are many ways to begin your search. Word of mouth is still a reliable option. Talk to people with whom you are comfortable about their recommendations. Do they know a therapist who specializes in anxiety or depression, or has certification in substance abuse or eating disorders? You can also go to the Psychology Today website, which has a therapist finder section. These therapists have been screened and vetted, and can be searched by modalities, insurances accepted, gender, age, language, location, and issues addressed. The American Association of Christian Counselors also has a Find a Counselor tab called Christian Care Connect that lists providers with pastoral, biblical, or Christian-based training. While use of the internet makes your quest much easier, I would caution you about just doing a “yellow-pages” search. You can find further information on a potential therapist by doing a Google search, checking out the therapist’s website, and looking for a Facebook business page.

Many people don’t realize that their employer may be a resource. Some businesses offer EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs). You can find out if your employer offers this benefit by either contacting your HR department or checking your employee handbook. EAPs generally have contracts with various therapists and therapy practices to provide short-term counseling services. This means that your employer may cover a certain number of sessions to assist you in working through a “temporary” issue or struggle. I am part of an EAP which provides 6 sessions free to the employee. An example of a temporary issue might be grief counseling or an adjustment-type of event. If you are employed at a university, personal counseling is usually provided free of charge. At Athens State, I work with staff, students, and faculty at no cost, providing short-term therapy services. And lastly, counseling services are available through your local community mental health centers. In Limestone County, therapists are available through the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama. In Madison County, therapists are available through Wellstone Behavioral Health. These agencies provide low-cost services and accept most insurances, but you will probably not be able to choose your therapist.

Once you have selected a therapist, the next step is that big first appointment. Part ll will address your concerns and uncertainties regarding what to expect from the initial session.
By: Lisa Philippart

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