How can a counselor help if s/he hasn't been through the same thing I'm dealing with?

Sometimes I am asked how I can help a client if I haven't experienced the same thing.  This comes up because I'm 32, and so I haven't yet experienced all of what life holds.  I've never been through a divorce, I don't have any children, and I haven't been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  It can be easy to conclude that a counselor can't help you if s/he hasn't experienced the same things you have, perhaps citing the idea of walking a mile in someone else's shoes.  

This makes a lot of sense on the face of it.  Everyone seeking emotional health services wants to be heard and understood.  However, most of life's unique experiences elicit, more or less, the same set of emotions.  A divorce is a unique experience, but it elicits grief, anger, and other emotions with which your counselor is already familiar.  Parenting is a unique skill, but it relies on a solid sense of self and on learning to love well and wisely.  Medical issues are again unique, but they often are accompanied by helplessness, fear, anger, and sorrow; these emotions are not unique.  

The treatment modalities used at Sweetwater Counseling are designed to work in different ways for different problems.  Your clinician will work with you on formulating goals for your treatment that are specific to you and your situation.  The methods we use have been tested on people dealing with a wide variety of problems, so even though I haven't experienced Post-traumatic Stress, I have researched the treatments that work best for it.  My colleague and I are always learning more so that we can help you with things we have faced ourselves, and things we haven't faced yet.  

Of course, there are specializations that might be appropriate to seek.  For example, since I have never parented, I refer clients who have parenting questions to my colleague who specializes in early childhood development and is a parent.  Drug and alcohol addiction is a field in which I am only minimally trained, and I refer those clients to a specialist.  To find out if Sweetwater's services are right for you, give us a call.  

You may also want to seek a therapist who has a similar demographic to you if you are specifically interested in working on issues related to your background.  For example, some women prefer to see a female clinician to deal with issues related to gender socialization or sexual assault.  Some people prefer a clinician who shares their racial background if they want to talk about issues of racism or discrimination.  Your therapist wants you to feel comfortable, so s/he can help you find a referral if you feel, after the initial appointment, that you are not a good fit.  

The above is for informational purposes only.  Please consult your therapist for advice.