Hello, Im currently writing a story, and in a certain chapter the character goes to a counselor to try and ease his anger issues and depression. But I have never been to a counselor therefore I dont know how to describe it. Would you be willing to help?

Sure! There are a lot of websites about counseling and whatnot, but there’s really nothing like actually going in person.

You’re in luck–I actually went to a counselor from late 2011 until May this year, so I have plenty of experience to share with you.

I went to the counseling center on my college’s campus, which means my experience will be a little different from a non-college counseling center.

To start with, all I had to do was come in and ask to have an appointment. I had to pay a one-time $20 fee, so every time after my first one was completely free, which was really nice.

Some places will have you answer some questions on a form or a survey on a computer. This will help them gauge what issues you’re having, which will help them match you with a particular therapist.

I only vaguely remember filling it out, so I can’t provide specific details for you there.

Then, you go in and they ask you to tell them about what’s going on. Obviously, they know the broad details from looking at your survey, but there’s really nothing like answering questions out loud.

They mostly ask a lot of questions and let you talk for as long as you need to on any particular subject. And if you don’t want to say much about it yet, they don’t push you too hard on the matter. But they might bring it back up later.

The stereotype about therapists is that they ask “How does that make you feel?” I’m not really sure if I got asked that a lot, because I was able to go less and less as time went on.

But the goal is to find out what’s going on, how you feel about it, and what it means. If you’re having anger issues, then they’re going to try to figure out where they stem from. Were you angry as a child? Was your family aggressive when you were growing up? Things like that.

However, it’s more important to focus on the present. How does your anger manifest itself? Do you punch walls, or do you punch people?

An example convo:

Counselor: Did you get really angry with someone this week?
Me: Yeah, my ex started pushing my buttons.
C: What did they do?
Me: Well, he messaged me on Facebook when I asked him not to contact me any more.
C: Did you reply to him?
Me: No, it was just this morning, and I figured I’d ask your opinion first.
C: Okay. What did you do when you got angry about it this morning?
Me: *sigh* Well, I went and screamed into a pillow. But it didn’t help. So I threw a book. It didn’t help either, so I went to the gym.
C: Did going to the gym help?
Me: Not really.
C: Why do you think it didn’t help?
Me: Because it didn’t solve anything. I’m still upset.

And so on. They’ll try to help you figure out a healthy way to deal with the issues you have while finding out what’s causing them.

Maybe you lash out at your spouse because you feel insecure, and it manifests as asking a lot of questions when they go out with friends. That turns into a fight because they think you don’t trust them, and you can’t figure out why you’re being so possessive.

A counselor is there to guide you through the process of determining what the root of the issue is and how to handle it better.

My sessions were typically about an hour long, and I usually ended up talking about 3-5 different subjects, depending how my week had been going. Sometimes it was more if it had been two weeks since my last visit.

The conversation usually flows pretty naturally, even if it has a little prodding like “Did you get angry at anything else this week?”

Some important questions you should expect to consider for these interactions:

What was the worst thing that happened this week?
How did you handle it?
How did it make you feel?
What did you do the last time this happened?
Do you remember the first time you felt this way or acted this way?
Why do you think you reacted like that?
Do you think you handled this in a mature manner?
Did it help?
Have you tried ________?

Because I went to the same counselor for so long, she was pretty familiar with a lot of different aspects of my life and would ask stuff about my family, my boyfriend, my job, my classes, etc.

If you’re having the same issue a lot, then they’ll ask what its progress is if you don’t bring it up first. For the anger issues and depression, if your character brings up the depression first, then the counselor will ask about the anger issues once the depression stuff has been hashed out.

I even found myself sending emergency e-mails to my counselor if I was having a rough time. And when a threatening conversation happened and one of my professors called the police about it, one of the counselors came and asked why I hadn’t e-mailed her about it. Seriously.

The people who work at the counseling place are always super-nice, and they’ll ask you how you’re doing and stuff. There’s candy, books, a TV, and even coffee and hot chocolate for while you’re waiting.

They also keep tissues plentiful! When I went to my sessions, I sat in a comfy chair with my counselor in the same kind of chair, about 7 feet away from me. Between us was a small end table with a box of tissues on it. And a potted plant.

They really do care about you. And if they don’t, then you need to find somewhere else to go.

It’s basically an hour-long conversation, and at the end, you can schedule your next appointment.

They’re really good people, and I’m genuinely glad I went, because I learned and grew so much.

This isn’t to say that all counseling services are grand and great. In fact, there were a lot of weeks where it felt like nothing had been accomplished at all. But the weeks when she thought I’d be fine with coming in every other week, I could feel the emotional heaviness much more strongly than if I had gone in that week.

And there are plenty of people I know that have had bad experiences with therapists. But I don’t think that’s the typical experience. If that’s what you want to go for, though, I can probably get some information about what happens with bad counselors.

Thanks for writing in, and I hope this helps! If you would like resources related to counseling, then please let me know. 🙂

Here’s a link about mental-health screening from my old university: http://www.wku.edu/heretohelp/mentalhealthscreen.php
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