In 2008, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 13.4% of adults in the United States received treatment for a mental health problem.1 For most mental health issues, a disorder is categorized by a specific set of criteria determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and, once the diagnosis is made based on these criteria, an appropriate treatment strategy is implemented. Social factors, environmental triggers, substance abuse, behavioral health, the loss of a loved one, and increased stress in modern life all influence mental health.
Individual counseling is a treatment intervention based on one-on-one conversations with a trained therapist.2 It occurs exclusively between a client and a mental health clinician, whereas group counseling involves a peer setting in which many members help one another.3 Though distinct treatment modalities, individual and group counseling can complement each other, facilitating deep intrapersonal and interpersonal work. For example, a trauma survivor may feel comfortable working with a psychotherapist in a private setting but may also benefit from processing feelings with other trauma survivors in group therapy. Both facilitate healing in different ways that are equally beneficial.
Treatment begins with an assessmentTreatment for a drug or alcohol problem usually begins with an assessment to determine whether an addiction is present, the extent of it, and whether there are co-occurring conditions, as well as to assist in the development of a treatment plan. Read More
Will this Benefit Me?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 16 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2015, with a high prevalence of anxiety disorders as well.4,5 These types of mental health disorders are 0 treated with psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, to confront and work through the fear and stressful causes of depression or anxiety.5
Signs that individual therapy may be right for you include:2
- Experiencing an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness or grief.
- Having little to no change in mood despite help from family and friends.
- Having difficulty concentrating on work assignments or carrying out daily activities.
- Experiencing excessive worry or distraction.
- Drinking too much or engaging in risky behaviors.
- Exhibiting aggressive behavior or harm to yourself or others.
A person may face various challenges that warrant individual counseling, such as:
- Stage of life issues: going to college; divorce; a death in the family; retirement.
- Mental health issues: anxiety; anger-management issues; depression; PTSD.
- Behavioral health issues: eating disorders; internet addiction; gambling.
- Substance abuse and addiction issues: struggling to maintain sobriety from drugs or alcohol.
Benefits of individual counseling include:
- Privacy and confidentiality.
- Focused work on your specific issues.
- A non-judgmental, objective viewpoint about your situation or problem.
- More one-on-one time with the counselor or therapist.
- Sessions focused on you and your problems, allowing you to dig deeper and progress faster.
- Flexibility and convenience in scheduling sessions for outpatient treatment.
- Practice in building trust and having a healthy relationship.
Options Available for Treatment
There are many different approaches to individual therapy, and the kind of treatment you receive depends on various factors, including:
- Current psychological research.
- Your counselor’s theoretical orientation.
- What works best for your situation.
To see improvements, you must become an active participant in a collaborative problem-solving process to alter any maladaptive behavioral patterns you’ve developed.6
Your therapist may combine elements from several styles of psychotherapy. In fact, most therapists don’t adhere to just one approach but blend elements from different modalities and tailor their treatment according to your specific needs.2
Therapies that may be used in individual counseling include:5
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on identifying, challenging, and neutralizing unhelpful thoughts or beliefs. It teaches you different ways to think, behave, and respond to stressful situations.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT has been used extensively for Borderline Personality Disorder and focuses on enhancing your motivation and teaching emotional regulation skills to help you cope with specific life challenges.
- Family counseling: A therapist may employ a family systems approach to help you better understand behavioral patterns in your personal relationships. The therapist may also bring in members of your family to facilitate communication and healing.
- Motivational interviewing (MI): This approach aligns well with the Stages of Change model and is used frequently in drug and alcohol rehab and addiction treatment to elicit positive behavioral changes by uncovering strong personal motivators to get well.
- Equine therapy: Many substance abuse and addiction treatment centers use therapeutic activities with horses to improve mental health and teach important relationship skills. Additionally, individual therapists specialize in equine therapy and can offer it in a private setting.
Specialties available in individual counseling include:7,8
- Teen-specific: Therapists and counselors trained in adolescent psychology may be better equipped to help teens and young adults.
- Gender-specific: You may prefer to work with a female or male therapist, depending on your comfort level with each gender.
- Faith-based: For many people, it’s important to work with a counselor who shares their religious or cultural views.
- Executive: You may prefer to work with someone who understands the demands of a high-profile profession or who has a corporate background. Some individual counselors work specifically with high-profile celebrities and entrepreneurs and are trained to help this specific group of people.
- Integrative: These therapists are licensed psychologists or therapists who are trained (and even certified) to employ a broad range of integrative and holistic modalities.
Integrative Mental Health (IMH) was developed from blending and combining therapeutic approaches. The more inclusive paradigm of IMH may more adequately address your unique needs, including physical and psychological well-being, social relationships, and spiritual values.7,8
How to Choose the Right One for You
If you plan to use your insurance or employee assistance program to pay for therapy, you may need to choose a counselor who is a provider on your plan. Regardless of whether you have a limited number to choose from or can select from a larger pool of counselors, there are many ways to find the best person for you:2
- Ask family members and friends whom you trust for personal recommendations.
- Consult your primary care physician.
- A family law attorney often has referrals if you are going through divorce or custody proceedings.
- A simple online search often yields good results.
- Your local university or college psychology department is frequently connected to good therapists in your area.
Counselors may have a private practice or belong to a clinic or group of other mental health or healthcare professionals. You may also find trained therapists in:2
- Schools and universities.
- Hospitals and various organizations that support physical and mental health systems.
- Rehabilitation centers.
- Long-term care facilities.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are around 85,000 licensed therapists in the U.S., so you have a good chance of finding the right person near you.2 However, be sure to screen or interview your potential therapists, since therapy is most effective when it is a good fit for both parties.
Qualities to look for when selecting a counselor include:
- Rapport with the counselor. Do you feel comfortable enough to be honest, vulnerable, and safe?
- What they specialize in. The area(s) they specialize in (e.g., addiction, drug and alcohol rehab, trauma, EMDR, grief and loss, eating disorders).
- Therapeutic techniques they use. Their theoretical orientation and the modalities they incorporate (e.g., Jungian analysis, CBT, EMDR, imagery, somatic psychology).
- The therapist’s credentials, experience, and level of education or degree (e.g., MFT, LCSW, PhD, PsyD).
- Payment policies. Do they accept your insurance/any insurance? What are their cash-pay rates? Do they offer a sliding scale based on your income? Do they accept credit cards or personal checks? Do they expect payment at the time of service?
- Online reviews of other people’s experiences. Look at the counselor’s reviews online to see how others have rated them.
- Cancellation policies. How do they deal with missed appointments or last-minute rescheduling?
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Use of Mental Health Services and Treatment Among Adults.
- American Psychological Association. (2017). Understanding Psychotherapy and How It Works.
- American Psychological Association. (2017). Power in Numbers.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Major Depression Among Adults.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Anxiety Disorders.
- Hoffman, S., Asnaana, A., Vonk, I., Sawyer, A., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses. Cognitive Therapy Research, 36(5), 427–440.
- Lake, J., Helgason, C., & Sarris, J. (2012). Integrative Mental Health (IMH): Paradigm, Research, and Clinical Practice. Explore, 8(1), 50–57.
- Sarris, J., Glick, R., Hoenders, R., Duffy, J., & Lake, J. (2014). Integrative Mental Healthcare White Paper: Establishing a New Paradigm Through Research, Education and Clinical Guidelines. Advances in Integrative Medicine, 1(1), 9–16.