You don’t have to do this alone
We’ve introduced a lot of pretty deep subject material on this site. We don’t expect that just reading through it will generate the kind of long-term, fundamental change you want or need. The processes we discuss for preventing rage, identifying root causes, and challenging thoughts take considerable time. Self-reflection is difficult and can often be painful. None of us can see ourselves with perfect objectivity. It’s pretty easy to get stuck and not know what to do next.
We highly encourage you to find a coach that can help you understand the concepts and how they affect you personally. If you were training for an Ironman triathlon, you wouldn’t hesitate to hire a trainer. The event is difficult enough with professional coaching–going without would make the process even more challenging. This transformation is perhaps harder than a triathlon, though, because most of us know less about how our mind works than how our legs and arms work.
Many people are averse to getting help. We are conditioned to do things ourselves and never look weak. That self-reliance, however, keeps us stuck and prevents us from growth and making positive change. Counseling has a negative stigma for many men in particular. Talking to a counselor does not mean you are mentally weak. In fact, it demonstrates tremendous strength and wisdom to surround yourself with expert advisors who can help you succeed. Presidents have advisors. CEOs have advisors. Top athletes have coaches. Successful people get the best help they can find.
Having a professionally-trained counselor to guide you is really valuable if you can afford it. A good counselor can help you better understand what is going on in your mind to cause your reactions. They’ll provide useful strategies for managing anger and relationship conflict. They should be non-judgmental and genuinely concerned about your well-being. If you can’t afford a counselor, try to find a pastor or another person you respect and who personifies the changes you want to make to mentor you through the process. Why not have all the advantages you can on your side?
Finding counseling that works for you
If you’ve never been to a counselor or therapist, there is no need to feel uneasy about it. Here are a few basic pointers that can help you find the right provider, get off to a good start, and get the most value from your work with them. Depending on where you live, you may have the opportunity to explore individual counseling, group therapy, or support groups to see what format works best for you.
When looking for a counselor, find one that is:
- Has an advanced degree (Masters, PhD) from an accredited university (not an online school)
- Works frequently with anger or violence issues
- Recommended by friends, relatives, your physician, or your pastor, if you feel comfortable asking
What shouldn’t matter:
- Their pedigree, other than a legitimate degree and license. An Ivy League education or an alphabet of certifications does not necessarily make the therapist better.
- Fees. While It is okay to consider their fee and expect one that is reasonably priced, try not to let that be the driving factor. Good quality counseling may come at a cost. Pursuing the cheapest, or the most expensive for that matter, may not be the option that is most effective for you.
Psychology Today offers some tips and questions you can ask a counselor to help determine whether he/she is a good fit. If you don’t have a counselor or therapist already, you can use the following resource to locate one near you:
Getting the most from your time and money
Here are a few pointers that can help you get the most out of your association with a counselor:
- The hardest step is picking up the phone and making the appointment. The next hardest step is showing up the first time. Do it anyway.
- Tell them what your goals are for counseling. Ask for their feedback on those goals.
- Ask for a road map for their approach and your work with them. How will you be able to tell that you are making progress?
As you continue working with a counselor:
- Be honest! Tell your counselor exactly what you are thinking and feeling when you react. This is no time to sugarcoat anything. Your counselor is not there to judge you or punish you. The more honest and transparent you are, the better he/she can help you and the more progress you’ll make.
- Meet with them regularly. Weekly, bi-weekly, or at the most, monthly is a good meeting schedule. It’s hard to make much progress if you only check in every few months. The frequency may decrease as you continue to meet with him/her and start making progress on your goals.
- Be patient with getting results. A common reason we hear for not going to or continue counseling is, “I went to a few sessions, but nothing seems to have changed.” Results take time, so give yourself 8-10 regular sessions rather than an appointment or two before you expect to see changes. It’s common to discover more areas to work on (and therefore make more progress) over the course of a few years.
- Be accountable to yourself. Counselors are not going to track you down if you stop going. If they give you homework and you don’t do it, they are not going to fail you. You are only hurting yourself if you don’t follow through.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. One of the common reasons we hear about someone not continuing counseling is they were not “comfortable” with the counselor.
- Comfort is important. You should feel safe sharing your experiences, thoughts, feelings, hurts, frustrations, and shame with this person. Counseling works best when we feel the other person can relate to us and we can relate to them. You should expect he/she will be compassionate and genuinely care about you. Your counselor should treat you with the basic respect owed to every human being.
- While being comfortable with your counselor is nice, there will be times in counseling when the subject they bring up makes us feel uncomfortable. Sometimes your counselor will challenge you to go deeper or check your beliefs. It can be frustrating when a counselor tells us things that we don’t understand. Some concepts may take years to finally make sense, so give yourself time. These discomforts are part of the healing, growth and change process.
- Go to learn, not get advice or answers. Good counseling teaches us to think differently, soothe ourselves when circumstances are frustrating, and solve our own problems. Don’t expect a therapist to tell you the answer or tell you what to do. It becomes a permanent part of you when you discover on your own (with his/her help leading you there) that different thoughts and different responses to circumstances produce different and better outcomes.
- Focus on yourself. We know your partner is not perfect. No one is. It sounds cliche, but the only person you can change is you. This is really freeing once you think about it–the outcome becomes something you can control instead of needing someone else to change.
- Stick with it. If you start to question the time, money, effort, and discomfort you are spending, keep in mind that you are on a mission to fix this issue and that your life (or at least your ability to enjoy a happy and rewarding life) and the well-being of your family depends on it.
- Change counselors reluctantly. While it is possible that you won’t “click” with a particular therapist, check your motivation for dropping a counselor. Is it because there is a compatibility issue between the two of you? Or because you feel uncomfortable (which is part of the process)? If you’ve tried a number of different counselors and none of them seem to help, chances are the issue is with you and not the counselors. Check your expectations (see above), your openness to share, and your willingness to accept new ways of thinking.
A note about insurance coverage and counseling costs
Mental health services are unfortunately not always a covered service under all insurance plans in the U.S. If you have insurance, it is important that you ask some questions about your benefits coverage. We’ve listed a few important questions to ask your insurance carrier or agent to help you get you started:
- Does my insurance cover counseling services? If so, how many sessions are covered?
- Do I need to meet a deductible before my coverage kicks in? If so, how much will I be responsible for paying out-of-pocket?
- How much will I pay per session after the deductible is met?
- Is there a copay with each visit?
- Do I need a special referral to get my insurance to cover the cost of counseling sessions?
If you do not have insurance, or if you determine medical insurance does not cover the cost of mental health services, you may also have the opportunity to seek counseling through your employer using an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP is a confidential service that may offer short-term counseling or referrals to local mental health providers in your area. A human resources contact at your workplace should be able to provide you with a summary of your employee benefits, including whether EAP is a tool at your disposal.
Finally, if neither coverage under your medical insurance nor EAP are available, you should expect to pay between $40 to $120 per counseling session depending on the average cost for counseling in your area. If this cost is too steep for your budget, you can also look for social work or nonprofit organizations in your area that may offer services for free, at a discounted rate, or on a sliding fee scale based on your income.