I am a counselor who does primarily couples and relationship-building counseling. I love what I do! It’s challenging and rewarding. I’m writing this post because I want to let people know how counselors gauge their ability to work with you…from the first phone call and scheduled appointment, to the discharge.
First of all, counselors have specific office hours just like any other professional. It’s unlikely that a counselor is going to go out of her/his way to see you at any time except during the designated office hours. Would you expect for your doctor to do that? No, you wouldn’t. You know that the doctor’s office is closed at certain times and there are urgent care facilities to handle emergencies. The same goes for counseling. In the case of an emergency, we would not see you in the office anyway…you would need to be assessed in the emergency room. That is standard protocol.
I’ve had people leave messages on my voice mail stating how critical their situation is regarding their marriage/relationship, then they will follow that up with, “We are only available to come in after 6pm or on Sundays.” Really?? I don’t work on Sunday either! As far as I’m concerned, you’ve already told me your level of commitment to counseling and your relationship. I do not return those calls.
If your marriage/relationship is on the rocks, you should be willing to come in whenever the counselor needs for you to come in so that your situation can be assessed as soon as possible. Just like if you were having problems with your blood sugar or some other moderate-level medical issue, you would get to the doctor Wednesday, at 2pm in the afternoon, if that’s what was available. Your health is at risk, and if you prolong things, your life could be at risk.
For some reason, people don’t view mental health that way, not even when their relationships are in jeopardy. Many people wait until there is a crisis, like an impending break-up, or the threat of a divorce before they call a counselor. As mental health professionals, we know that the problems did not just happen overnight. It’s been a slow build-up for months or years.
So here’s the deal, when you are having even the slightest problem in your relationship, go ahead and schedule an appointment BEFORE things escalate. Be flexible with your schedule and demonstrate your level of commitment to the process. A counselor is more likely to be flexible with you if you show how important your relationship is to you. Next, be willing to work; counselors give homework and readings that are to be done between sessions. This represents application of what is being discussed in the sessions. Finally, if the counselor make recommendations that may supplement the relationship-building interventions, follow the recommendations. These can include one or both parties getting into individual counseling, attending some sort of group/workshop/retreat, or participation in other community resources. The counselor may also recommend that you see your primary care doctor for a physical.
Remember, this is about your relationship. This is about you and the person you love, and are committed to. Surely, the months or years you’ve already invested is worth an afternoon from your busy schedule.