If you had a stubborn cold, some kind of infection, or an earache, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to see your primary care doctor. But if you started experiencing heart problems, suffered a serious fracture, or began to have strange headaches, you probably would insist on seeing a cardiologist, orthopedic surgeon, or a neurologist, because you’d want access to the specialized knowledge those professionals have amassed.

The same thing is true when it comes to mental health. While there’s a common misconception that a counselor is a counselor and one therapist is essentially the same as another, the reality is there is a great deal of difference among mental health professionals. Some counselors are like general practitioners in medicine – they have a wide base of knowledge and can help with most issues. Other counselors have received additional training in specific areas, so they specialize in helping people in those areas. For example, a counselor might specialize in body image issues affecting teenage girls, or the challenges facing adoptive families, or marital problems.

The advantage of working with a specialized counselor is that their deeper knowledge through additional training gives them more insight into those specific issues. Often, they’ve become specialists because they have a particular interest or passion in those issues. For example, I’ve known counselors who grew up in homes where domestic abuse was present, and they’ve chosen to specialize in helping people who are in abusive situations find a way out.

Specialized counselors come to situations with an inherent understanding. They know the right questions to ask, specialized methods to us and they can draw upon their experience when recommending strategies that are most likely to help individuals find relief and true healing. No two people are identical or have been through the same experiences, but counselors learn from each person they help and can apply what they’ve learned and researched in the future.

That’s why it’s important for church leaders and other people who find themselves making referrals to develop an understanding of the work specific therapists perform. A pastor might recommend one counselor for a couple facing stress related to finances, and a different counselor to a teen struggling with thoughts of suicide. It’s a key advantage of a counseling center like Care to Change, where a variety of professionals practice. If I begin counseling someone and quickly realize they might benefit more by working with one of my colleagues, I can make the connection. At other times, I might reach out to one of those colleagues and say, “I’m working with someone who has issues related to a situation. What strategies have you used when you’ve encountered the same situation?”

Whether you’re seeking a counselor for yourself or making a referral for a member of your congregation, try to match your recommendation to the specific needs. And if you’re not sure which professional might be the right choice, reach out to Care to Change and we’ll help you find the right one.

Ginger Boyce is one of Care to Change’s professional counselors who specializes in mind/body connection through trauma informed yoga.

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