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4 Tips to Consider When Beginning Mental Health Counseling

Dr Africa L Rainey is a Counseling Psychologist who owns a private practice in Arlington Heights, IL.


Mental Illness Occurs Frequently in the U.S

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2019), as of 2017, one in five adults or approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults, suffer from some form of mental illness. Seeking mental health counseling or psychotherapy can be overwhelming, but seeking help from a qualified mental health professional can be greatly beneficial.

Psychotherapy Is Beneficial

There are over 3,000 studies demonstrating the health benefits of psychotherapy, with 79% of individuals in therapy being better off overall than those who do not seek therapy. In addition, research supports psychotherapy is as effective or more than medication. Mental health counseling is also the most effective treatment in preventing the return of symptoms once treatment concludes (Westra, 2013). In order to maximize the benefit of therapy, consider these four tips:

1. Think About Why You're Considering Counseling

It’s important to have an idea about why you’re considering counseling. Are there issues sleeping? Feeling angry about an experience and unable to move beyond it? Have some idea as to why you are pursuing counseling and discuss these issues with your therapist so they have some understanding about how they can assist you.

Take a few minutes before the appointment to briefly jot down mental health concerns. Oftentimes, particularly for introverts, meeting with a new person for the first time can be nerve wrecking. Having thoughts written down will help guide you and the therapist for the first appointment. Also, if the first therapist isn’t a fit, then prepared information will help in subsequent appointments while searching for good therapeutic fit.

2. Find a Counselor You Trust and Feel Comfortable With

The counseling relationship is vital in increasing mental wellness and can be the single most powerful impetus for transformation. It is vital to locate a person with whom a level of comfort and chemistry exists in order to promote a safe and nurturing environment. Oftentimes, the first clinician encountered isn’t always a good fit. If you feel like it isn’t working, try someone else.

Take a look at the clinician’s bio or webpage to get an idea about their style, concentration areas and counseling experience before calling to set up an appointment.

If you identify as a gender, sexual or racial minority, to avoid wasting time, prior to the first appointment, ask the clinician to briefly elaborate on their knowledge and understanding of diversity, particularly, ways mental illness impacts individuals from these minority cultural groups.

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3. You Will Need to Work Hard to Get Better

Mental health counseling includes providing tools and insight to clear away patterns of belief and behavior that create cyclic, and/or stagnant painful emotional states. These patterns can exist for years, even decades. Because we ‘practiced’ these thoughts and behaviors for extended times, we now need to ‘practice’ something different. A mental health lifestyle change can mean taking on new behaviors, indicated by research, to aid in mental wellness. These include: journaling, meditation, mindfulness, psychoeducation, psychonutrition, etc. Change can feel uncomfortable, but being open to and practicing new behaviors can create profound sustainable transformation.

If you don’t know or are uncertain of the effectiveness of any mental health lifestyle change suggested by your clinician, ask for more information. For example, Mental Health America (2019) indicates the use of meditation is supported by at least 600 research studies establishing positive mental health benefits from the use of transcendental meditation in particular.

4. The Goal Is Not to Be Perfect

Acknowledge any vulnerability, in that having a willingness to examine the parts of oneself we may value highly, such as a need for perfection, may be in direct conflict with our quest for mental wellness.

Perfectionism is a shield, minimizing judgement, shame, and criticism (Brown, 2014). In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, (2014) leading researcher on shame, Brene’ Brown indicates the importance of acknowledging perfection in one’s life. Doing so, will aid in alleviating depression, addiction, anxiety and an overall feeling of being paralyzed by life (p56).

Final Thoughts

Overall, therapy is an effective method for improving mental health and wellness. These tips will hopefully provide a more viable roadmap on the journey to sustained mental wellness.


Brown, B. (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 56). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.

Mental Health America (2019) Meditation Retrieved April 3, 2019 from

Westra, H. (2013) Find a Psychologist. Retrieved April 3, 2019 from

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on April 14, 2019:

Informative article, potentially very helpful for those who are hesitant about the benefits of counseling and therapy.

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