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Mental Illness

Insider’s Tips to Find a Good Counselor

Copyright: gajus / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: gajus / 123RF Stock Photo


A few months ago I tried to help find a counselor for a friend who lives in a different state. I didn’t have any counselor connections; I didn’t know anyone there. My friend’s medical doctor provided a list of area counseling agencies from a psychology website. The list was nothing more than a yellow pages list of addresses. When life provides no answers, I go to Google. As a counselor I was shocked at how hard it was to find a qualified resource. Sure, Google found some sites, but it was difficult to know who would be a good fit for my friend. I called some counselors but ended up talking to their receptionists who were mostly interested in insurance coverage. I left messages for counselors. I got nowhere.

In counselor training it’s common to discuss how difficult it can be for people to come to a point emotionally where they are ready to seek counseling. It wasn’t until I tried to find a counselor for my friend, that I realized how difficult the logistics of finding a counselor can be.

I know the life changing power of counseling. I have watched couples with no hope left for their relationship, renew their commitment and passion for each other. I’m convinced counseling is worth every effort it takes to get there. I want you to be able to find a counselor when you are ready for counseling without adding to your stress. Here’s how I recommend friends and family find a counselor.

1. Personal referral. A personal recommendation is the best way to find any product or service. Talk to the people you know, ask if they know a good counselor. You may be surprised to learn who has seen a counselor. You may find you have a connection to a counselor you didn’t know you had. If you know someone who has benefited from counseling, their recommendation is golden. Having someone you trust describe the counselor is by far the best way to start when choosing a counselor. Fortunately, my friend ended up receiving a personal referral from someone who knew a counselor in the area and it’s been a great experience.

2. Professional referral. Your medical provider may have a list of counselors they recommend, especially if you are prescribed medications for a mental illness like Major Depression. Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which has provider recommendations. This is mostly a financial arrangement but at least you know the counselors are legit.

3. Internet. The information superhighway is a great tool for finding counselors. Obviously, you will want to search for counselors in your local area, unless you have a private jet you can fly anywhere to get counseling. It may also be helpful to check out professional associations with a chapter in your area. For example, you could look up the Idaho Counseling Association to see counselors they recommend. When you go to a website, look for pictures, bios, videos, and blogs, to give you clues to what the counselor is like. The more you know about a counselor, the better choice you can make.

4. Try one. The only way to really know if you have found the best counselor for you is to meet with them. Simply set up a counseling appointment and try them out. When you experience their personality, approach, and perspective first hand, you will know if they are a fit for you.

Please don’t delay getting counseling in the effort to get the perfect counselor. You will not find a perfect counselor, we are human after all.

Don’t settle for a counselor who isn’t helping you, but don’t be too picky either. Stay with a counselor for at least two or three sessions before trying a different person. It’s common to feel unsure after the first session.

Ultimately, with counseling you will get out of it what you put into it. It’s up to you. The counselor matters but your willingness to engage in the process is critical.

Copyright: alexf123 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: alexf123 / 123RF Stock Photo

Answers to questions you may have about counseling.

1. How much does it cost? Counseling services have a wide range of cost. Many insurances cover the cost of counseling for a certain number of sessions. Contact your insurance provider to check on the coverage you have for counseling services. Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides a number of counseling sessions as an employee benefit. Please don’t let cost deter you from getting counseling; quality counseling is available for you regardless of your resources.

2. How do I know if they are legit? First, make sure the counselor you are considering has the appropriate credentials. Check to make sure they have a Master’s Degree or Ph.D in counseling or a related field and have a license to practice in your state. In most states you can go to the website for Bureau of Occupational license and look up the counselor to determine if they are licensed and in good standing with the licensure board. Here is the link for Idaho.

3. What is a counseling theory? A counselor’s theoretical orientation is basically how they view what is most helpful for people. If you are interested in specifics, your counselor should be able to clearly communicate their theoretical orientation and what it means in practical terms. Don’t get caught up in finding the best theoretical orientation, academics have been arguing it for decades. The individual skill of the counselor matters more than theory.

4. How can I find a Christian counselor? It may be important for you to have a counselor who shares your religious views. The best way to find a Christian counselor is to ask for a referral from your pastor. Some counselors advertise their faith on their website. Feel free to ask a potential counselor about their faith and how they integrate spirituality into the sessions.

5. How long will it take? Counseling sessions are typically one hour in duration. The number of sessions will depend on insurance coverage, counseling theory, and what the client wants. You and your counselor will likely discuss a recommended duration shortly after the first session.

6. What should I expect? I found this article from PsychCentral written by Steve Bressert, Ph.D., helpful in describing what you can expect when you come to counseling, click here and enjoy.


When looking for a counselor, it’s ok to ask questions. Please ask lots of questions, it’s how you get critical information. The better information you have the better decision you can make when finding a counselor.

Don’t let the logistics of finding a counselor derail you from getting help. Counseling saves lives, provides hope, and restores marriages every day.


I love connecting with you, share in the comments or in social media what you learned from this post. If anyone you know is considering counseling or should, please share this blog post with them.


Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or would like to schedule a session.

4 Steps to Overcome Loaded Loss.

Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo


Grieving death is a heartbreaking and difficult journey. It’s important to know how to maintain a great relationship even in times of grief. You may want to check out my recent post “what your spouse really needs in times of loss” Click here.

I believe in the power of healthy grieving. Understanding loss is a critical first step in grieving well; death is not the only loss people suffer. Loss is also felt when people experience traumatic events like abuse, illness, or disability. Unfortunately, these losses are often misunderstood in society and come loaded with shame and stigma. Many people find it difficult to express their grief related to their trauma and some have even been instructed not to talk about their trauma. You may not know the trauma experienced by those close to you. Tragically, for every well publicized traumatic event or sexual assault like that of Elizabeth Smart, many others go unreported.

Your experiences and the experiences of your spouse matter deeply to your marriage. Often the deepest hurts remain unspoken in an attempt to protect from the pain. In close relationships the emotionally raw and wounded areas are inevitably touched which can lead to relationship difficulties.

Sometimes traumatic losses are experienced by individuals long before getting married. For example: experiencing sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment, and substance abusing parents can be difficult to talk about. Working to address traumatic losses is a critical part of premarital counseling. The earlier in the relationship you can address traumatic loss in your life and that of your spouse, the better you can respond to each other in marriage. If a traumatic experience was not discussed prior to marriage but has come up now, you can still make some wonderful in your marriage. Find a counselor to help as you support each other through difficult emotions.

Other times traumatic losses are experienced by both marriage partners during the course of the marriage. For example: Miscarriage, overseas deployment, mental illness, or having a child with a disability deeply affect both partners and the marriage relationship.

When couples are facing a difficult loss, it’s important to work through the following steps to find a way forward.

1. Acknowledge the trauma. Go there, uncover the loss. Simply describing your pain can reduce its suffocating power. Refuse to stay silent about the pain. It won’t work to stuff your feelings, they will come out eventually especially with your spouse. Don’t keep your losses and related feelings from your spouse; it affects them too. When you become one with your spouse, your stories combine.

It’s often helpful to talk to someone safe who listens well who won’t dismiss your loss or feel threatened. It can be scary and unpredictable. Finding a counselor could make all the difference.

2. Allow grief. It may not look like others expect, but it’s important to express your current emotions. It doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s okay and healthy to have emotions.

3. Begin to heal. The emotional scars may never go away but the rawness of the wounds can heal. The loss you have experienced will always matter and influence you to some degree. No matter the pain, real healing can be yours.

4. Share your story. When appropriate, tell others about your loss and grief process. You are not alone, others have experienced similar loss. When you share your journey it will encourage others to address their trauma and work toward healing. I’ve been inspired by people who have shared their experiences, braving the shame of past abuse. The people I know have named their spouse as a major source of support through their grief and healing.

Warning: When talking about trauma and major losses that impact your life, its easy to get caught in the comparison trap. No matter what you have experienced it always seems like someone else has had it worse in some way. Stop comparing. Don’t dismiss your pain as inadequate or insignificant.

I’ve got awesome news. Traumatic losses are scary but facing them together with your spouse will fill your marriage with wonderful emotional intimacy. The richness of true connection is worth going into the depths of loss and is made possible by doing it well. Not only does it help the relationship to discuss difficult experiences, it helps to process and heal from the loss and trauma. Join with your spouse and journey grief together, your marriage will greatly benefit. The joy of intimate connection overcomes hurt.

What has helped you grieve losses in your life? What does healing feel like?

Tragedy, Mental Illness and What I Can’t Tell You

Copyright: sumners / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: sumners / 123RF Stock Photo

Tragedy seems to win again this month. Another tragedy brings back the all too familiar fear, hurt, and anger with more unanswered questions about mental illness.

I work on the front lines treating people with mental illness and it hurts to see a senseless crime which could have been prevented.

Tragedy hurts deeply but it doesn’t overcome all the good. Oh, how I wish you could see the good, how people with mental disorders receive treatment for their illness and don’t become dangerous and don’t kill. Even in the midst of tragedy I want you to know the good, to see it for yourself.

But it can’t happen.

The details of good treatment for people with mental illness are private. Completely confidential. Privacy laws prohibit disclosing specific information regarding the enormous good provided and countless tragedies averted. Don’t get me wrong, confidentiality laws are vitally important, but they do limit what the public is able to see of the remarkable good happening in every community.

When tragedy erupts it’s loud, painfully visible and shared in vivid detail. Good treatment of people with mental illness is silently invisible.

It’s easy to assume nothing is private. In the information age plenty of private information is readily available. Recent history is full of secret information getting out, WIKILeaks, sports steroid testing, congressional testimony, just to name a few. Believe it or not, most legally protected information remains in confidence.

Some people with mental illness are dangerous. Well-meaning advocates try to say everyone with a mental illness is harmless, most are, obviously some are not. Trained mental health professionals know the risks and warning signs and respond appropriately to protect both the public and people with dangerous mental illness. Treatment for mental illness is available, accessible, and effective. Professional treatment providers consistently address crisis situations and skillfully assist people in mental illness crisis. Tragedy is being prevented everywhere.
When all we see is tragedy and it feels like only pain surrounds us, you must know, good is happening too.

Please share this post or comment if you know the good treatment being provided for people with mental illness.

Schizophrenia Simplified

Copyright: alexskopje / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: alexskopje / 123RF Stock Photo


Schizophrenia is complex. Here is a simplified explanation.

What it is:

Disorder of the brain. Smart folks like neurologists, and neuro-chemists can explain the dysfunction of the neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain of a person with schizophrenia but it’s infinitely complicated. Simply put schizophrenia is a real disorder of the brain and is typically identified by the following common symptoms:

  • Delusions. Believing things that are not real is called delusions. An example of a delusion could be someone who believes they cannot go to the store because the UFO’s are watching them. Some delusions are quite bizarre and and others are more subtle and difficult to discern.
  • Hallucinations. Seeing or hearing things that are not there is called hallucinations. Often people with schizophrenia hear voices. Some people describe voices as a mean play-by-play announcer saying things like “get some pizza, No! not that kind, throw it away, you’re an idiot.” The experience of hallucinations are a common part of the disorder but each person experiences them differently.
  • Negative Symptoms. Along with delusions and hallucinations people with schizophrenia typically have what are called negative symptoms. Generally negative symptoms consist of a lack of motivation or energy. People with schizophrenia can come across as unemotional and disinterested. Important note: All symptoms vary in severity, the more severe a symptom the more it interferes with functioning. The list of symptoms associated with schizophrenia contains numerous variations and sub-types of these symptoms; explaining them all gets complex. Remember this is titled schizophrenia simplified.

Schizophrenia is treatable. There is no cure for schizophrenia but with a combination of medications and therapy, people with schizophrenia can manage the symptoms quite effectively. Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia make people suspicious of treatment and some of the medication used to treat schizophrenia have undesirable side effects; but despite the challenges most people find appropriate treatment helps them drastically improve functioning.


What it’s not:

Anyone’s fault. Saying someone has schizophrenia because they are evil or because their parents mistreated them is simply wrong. Schizophrenia is also not due to drug use.

Bums. Having schizophrenia doesn’t make people bums. Most people with schizophrenia are not homeless, most people who are homeless do not have schizophrenia.

Funny. Having schizophrenia is not funny. That is not to say that people with schizophrenia don’t have a sense of humor. They can certainly be funny and say funny things but make no mistake, having schizophrenia is not funny.

Safe or dangerous. Here is an important point given recent news stories. People with schizophrenia are not all safe. I know it’s not popular for mental health professionals to admit it but people with this illness have done terrible things. However, viewing all people with schizophrenia as dangerous is grossly irresponsible. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia do normal things like you; they work, play, have families, and respect others.


What to do:

Use the term appropriately. Knowing what schizophrenia is and isn’t, keeps you from sounding clueless. I have heard people say something like “I’m so schizophrenic -I’m a personal trainer and I just ate ten Oreos” contradicting yourself is not schizophrenia. Using the word schizophrenia correctly shows you are smart and not unknowingly disrespectful about a serious brain disorder.

Advocate for people to get help. If you or someone you know has symptoms described above please get help from a mental health provider. When you hear of people with schizophrenia who commit crimes, advocate for better availability of treatment. Actively work to end the stigma of mental illness and promote a culture of understanding and support.

Try empathy. Get to know people with schizophrenia as people. Learning about schizophrenia is interesting but is nothing compared to learning the amazing and inspirational stories of people. Go ahead give it a try; you’ll be glad you did. I’ve been forever changed by people I know who have schizophrenia.


Mental illness affects marriages in profound ways.

If your spouse has schizophrenia:

  1. Become aware of the unique way your spouse displays the symptoms of schizophrenia and the warning signs that may indicate symptoms will increase.
  2. Become integrated into their treatment. You shouldn’t try to be your spouse’s therapist, but you should be very familiar with their therapist. Get to know all the mental health providers working with your spouse including their psychiatrist. 
  3. When things are going well, develop a procedure with your spouse that you can implement when symptoms get out of control. Crisis is no time to have a discussion, crisis is time for action and action is easier if it is pre-planned. 
  4. Do things you enjoy together. Managing the symptoms of schizophrenia can be draining. Focus on the positive aspects of your spouse and your marriage, it will help you Make some Wonderful in your marriage.

Disclaimer: This is an informational resource from a mental health clinician with real life experience helping people with schizophrenia. For official diagnostic criteria check out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5)

What will you do now that you know more about schizophrenia?