Common Questions About Counseling

Counseling: An Overview
Q&A with Dr. David Kaplan, Chief Professional Officer of the American Counseling Association

 So you’re considering counseling to help you get through a tough transition in life, make some  important changes, or deal with some personal issues you’d like to address. What do you need  to know to make good decisions about counseling? How do you evaluate a counselor? We asked Dr. David Kaplan, the American Counseling Association’s chief professional officer, to answer some common questions about counseling. Here’s what he told us.

ACA: How do counselors help people?
Dr. Kaplan: Counselors are experts in assessing problems that people have in life and in selecting approaches that work for a particular person with a particular problem. Counselors work on a strength-based approach they will assess your strengths and the way these strengths can be used to support you. In addition, counselors focus on the cultural context of your issues and will take your culture into account.

ACA: What makes professional counselors unique?
Dr. Kaplan: With a counselor, you get a mental health specialist who focuses on you as a person, on the relationship, on wellness, and on preventing problems before they occur—in the life areas of work, family, and school—as well as someone who can diagnose and treat mental disorders. While counselors don’t prescribe medication, they often work hand-in-hand with physicians who do.

ACA: What kind of training do counselors have?
Dr. Kaplan: Licensed professional counselors have a graduate degree in counseling and typically have completed more than 3,000 hours of supervised experience to get their license.

ACA: There are many types of counselors, in many types of settings. What areas do counselors work in?
Dr. Kaplan: As mental health specialists, counselors work in many settings throughout the community. They work in clinics, in private practice, in agencies, in hospitals, in schools, in prisons, and in other settings. Common specialties within professional counseling include mental health counseling, school counseling, career counseling, rehabilitation counseling, addictions counseling, and couples and family counseling.

ACA: Why is it better to work with a counselor than to work things out on your own?
Dr. Kaplan: Counselors are experts in helping people with personal issues that are keeping them from being happy, healthy, and moving forward. It is much easier to deal with these issues with a professional partner than to do it alone.

ACA: What should people look for in a counselor?
Dr. Kaplan: Look for a professional counselor who is licensed or certified in their area of specialty. For example, if your child is having difficulties in school, talk to their school counselor. In a private practice or mental health setting, counselors should be licensed as a professional counselor by their state. Rehabilitation counselors should hold the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential.

ACA: Does it mean there’s something “wrong” with you if you see a counselor?
Dr. Kaplan: When a person decides to see a counselor, they are usually uncomfortable with something or they are struggling with a major life transition. Counselors can help you become more comfortable with situations and issues—and they can help you to grow. Counselors may view people as being stuck, in need of new skills, or in need of growth, but they never view people as having something “wrong” with them.

ACA: On average, how much time do people spend working with a counselor?
Dr. Kaplan: The average number of sessions is somewhere around six to eight. Some issues can be resolved in one session, some require meetings over a longer term.
Sessions are typically 50 minutes in length. In some settings, such as when seeing a school counselor, sessions vary in length. A student, for example, may see a school counselor for 10 minutes at a time.

ACA: Is it expensive to work with a counselor? Does insurance cover counseling?
Dr. Kaplan: Counselors often accept health insurance and, when they do, you may be billed only a minimal
copay. At community mental health centers, counselors work with sliding fee scales that make sure you don’t pay more for counseling than you can afford. School counselors don’t charge for their work; your taxes pay their salaries. Counselors in private practice who provide services that are not eligible for insurance reimbursement, such as career counseling, often charge from $80 to $120 an hour, but frequently will put together an affordable counseling package.

ACA: How do people find a counselor who can help them?
Dr. Kaplan: Go to the American Counseling Association website: