No one is free of stress. Many of us handle it well, most of the time, but there are still life events that can “tip us over.” Perhaps our teenager is acting out, our partner has cheated on us, or we are facing a major life-threatening medical event. In those times, it is a great idea to find a certified counselor you can trust.
So what is counseling like? The first session, called “intake,”involves information gathering. What is the presenting concern? Who is involved in the concern? Is there violence? Is excessive drug or alcohol use part of the problem? Sometimes we construct a “genogram” –a multi-generational family tree. Who taught you what you know? Are you simply repeating a family pattern? Are there behaviors we identify that you would be willing to change?
In family counseling, no one person is the “identified problem.” You are part of a family unit and the unit is the patient. You and your partner are together for a reason. You and your partner might decide to strengthen your relationship and remain together, or one or both of you may abandon the relationship. Often practical people want me to “tell them what to do,” but I cannot. I do not live in your skin.
There are no guarantees with counseling. Change is painful and people do not seek out counseling when they are comfortable. Sometimes couples come to counseling with one foot out the door already. A clear contract of purpose is important – are we here to work on the marriage or has one person already decided the marriage is over? It is not ethical to assist a couple with their marriage if one or both had an outside partner.
A counselor cannot tell you what to do, but they can help you evaluate options you may not see. As a licensed marriage and family therapist for 20 years, I see individuals, couples, and family units of all varieties. Many times these visits, usually an hour in length, are covered by insurance.
Most people are afraid someone will see their record or learn of their problems. In our office, counseling records are locked, visible only to me. Absolute confidentiality is the hallmark of counseling, and in fact the ethics of releasing records are even tighter than those in medicine in general. If you move, your counseling records will not go with your general medical chart without a special release specifically for counseling. One person in a family cannot release records of family counseling to someone else without the permission of all parties.
If you think counseling might be helpful to you as an individual or as part of a fa mily unit, it might be worthwhile considering it. People are capable of amazing change if the see an advantage in changing. Your life could be better.
–Gary J. LeClair, MD, LMFT