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A New Way to Wellness

by Julie Fischer, MSE, Licensed Professional Counselor

You're having marriage or relationship problems, parenting a troubled teen, dealing with the death of a loved one, facing a possible job layoff or something just as emotionally overwhelming. Friends and family just haven't been able to help pull you through it. Like many perfectly normal people, you begin to realize you need the support, understanding and guidance of a professional counselor. Someone who can help you navigate the crisis, regain your perspective and restore balance to your life. But who? How do you find a professional counselor whose style will be a good fit for you?

Knowing what types of counseling are available in your area is one of the first steps to take in your search for professional counseling. Like many people, you are probably already familiar with the traditional disease-oriented, medical model of psychotherapy. During this process, a client is diagnosed with a psychological illness and then receives treatment. A type of counseling you may not know about is holistic counseling. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, holistic counseling is a wellness-based process in which the counselor and client together explore issues while addressing four areas of wellness; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. No diagnosis or label is required to do this. The essential component is an open, honest, trusting and supportive counselor/client relationship. Once this relationship is established, true inner healing can take place.

A central belief of holistic counseling is that each of us has the wisdom necessary to work through our issues to lead us back to our natural state of health and wellness. Within the holistic counseling process, the counselor serves as a guide and facilitator while the client uncovers answers and solutions that await discovery within her or himself.

Traditional psychotherapy views symptoms as the problem. While psychotherapy's goal is to eliminate symptoms, holistic counseling seeks to understand the message behind the symptoms. What is your body trying to say to you via your headaches, your anxiety, and your feelings of hopelessness? What imbalances in your life need to be addressed? Traditional psychotherapy is focused on curing, whereas holistic counseling encourages true inner healing. The following quote by Christiane Northrup, M.D., from her book Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom explains:

"There is a difference between healing and curing. Healing is a natural process and is within the power of everyone. Curing...usually consists of an external treatment; medication is used to mask or eliminate symptoms. This external treatment doesn't necessarily address the factors that contributed to the symptoms in the first place. Healing goes deeper than curing and must always come from within. It addresses the imbalance that underlies the symptoms. Healing brings together the often hidden aspects of a person's life as they relate to her illness."

Another important issue to consider when seeking professional counseling is confidentiality. In traditional psychotherapy within the managed care system, the confidentiality of clients cannot be guaranteed. Insurance companies and HMO's require counselors to submit a diagnosis of each client. This diagnosis then becomes part of a client's permanent medical record. In addition, as part of cost containment procedures, HMO's and insurance companies frequently require counselors to supply additional information about a client's case. This information may then be entered into a computer and accessed by everyone and anyone.

Diagnosing clients with an illness just doesn't fit anywhere within a wellness-based holistic counseling philosophy, and without the interference of managed care, isn't required. If confidentiality is an issue for you, find a counselor who is willing and able to accept direct payment from you. By choosing to work directly with your counselor on a fee-for-service basis, you can be sure of complete confidentiality.

The differences between traditional psychotherapy and holistic counseling as well as the differences between individual counselors are many. Becoming informed about what types of counseling are available to you and taking the time to find a counselor that is a good fit for you is perhaps the most important way to ensure that your counseling experience a good one.

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