COLUMN: What is counseling?

By Brandon Ramsey

Since I will be publishing this article weekly, and we will discuss a multitude of topics that can be covered in counseling, such as depression, parenting, anger, and making positive changes in your life.  Perhaps before we do, we should cover the subject of counseling itself.  What is counseling?  There are many misconceptions and judgments connected to counseling, and I would like to clear some of them up.

When we hear that we need to go to a counselor, words like shrink, crazy, sick, couch, and new age come to mind.  That is the stigma that we as counselors have to fight every day in our offices.  Today’s world teaches us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and not let anyone into our little messed up world.  So we spend half our time fighting through defense mechanisms and faulty preconceptions.  You would not believe how many times I have had people leave my office and say, “Man, this was nothing like I thought it would be.”  What did you expect?

Most people think one of two things.  They have this idea that I’m going to lay you down on a couch, turn the lights down low, and ask all kinds of Freudian questions, such as “tell me about your mother” or “what are your deepest, darkest secrets?”  It is nothing like that.  I do have a small couch in my office, but there is no lying down.  If I don’t get to lie down on the job, then you don’t either.

Others believe that a counselor is going to get into all your business, and tell everyone about it.  They don’t understand that counselors are governed by the same type of confidentiality rules as doctors and lawyers.  Counselors will (and should) lose their license if they break confidentiality.  I like my job way too much to lose it over starting a little rumor.

Granted that some of those preconceptions were true about counseling many years ago, but counseling has become more solution focused.  It is based more on helping the client change the situation that is happening around them than delving into their past.  Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes we have to look to the past for answers, but it should always be tied into how that information can help you now. 

A counselor can be used as a sounding board.  Someone to listen and allow you to vent about feelings that are not socially appropriate to publicly vent, then help you come up with a plan to proactively keep these issues from happening or affecting you as much the next time.  It is more about you and your situation than being an advice giver in this situation.  What works for you and your family is the most important thing.  Though I have certain beliefs in life that I would never steer someone against, my job is to help you or you and your spouse find your way.

Counselors can also be used as a voice of direction in some cases, especially in the case of drug abuse, dealing with a friend or relative who is a drug abuser, or a family going through a divorce.  Along with other topics, these are ones that counselors are specifically trained in to help people navigate these dangerous waters.

The biggest misconception is that a counselor should only be seen as a last ditch effort to save a situation or relationship.  Would you call a life guard after the person sinks out of sight or would you get a doctor’s help only after the situation is life threatening?  No, of course not!  Many times that is how we treat our lives or relationships.  Just hold on until all hope is gone, and pray someone can put the pieces back together.  I will make it easy for you; a better approach is to see a counselor before it reaches crisis stage.


Brandon is the Owner/Director of Faith in the Family Counseling. He has been practicing in Ruston for over 16 years. His website is Brandon was born and raised in Ruston and is a graduate of Ruston High and Louisiana Tech. He is married to Marcie Ramsey and has three childen.