Should Counseling Follow the Emergency Room or Dentist Model?

February 23, 2018

Categories: Counseling

I remember talking to a colleague who was consulting with me about a difficult client. The client was a married couple, and the relationship had gotten to the point where it was pretty bad. My colleague had doubts the relationship could be saved.

He said something that stuck with me: “Why do couples always wait to come to counseling until it is an absolute emergency?”

Most People Wait Too Long to Get Help

When the married couple came to see him, the relationship was in a bad place, and it had been bad for a long time. Improvement seemed almost impossible. The relationship was hanging on by a thread.

However, the relationship wasn’t always like this. At one point in time, the couple had been in love with each other. But over time, the relationship slowly deteriorated, and now they were on the verge of divorce. They were almost hopeless.

What would have been possible if they had gone to counseling earlier?

Like years earlier.

When the problem started.

When the problem was a small problem.

Problems Are Easier to Fix When They Are Small

Problems are easier to fix when they are small. It’s easier to change course when you have only been off course a short time. Once the problem is huge and you are miles and miles off course, it’s more difficult to get back on track.

Emergency Room Model

We often view counseling through the emergency room (ER) model. We only consider counseling when the problem is REALLY BAD. We only get help when our situation is an absolute emergency, or we think we might die. The problem with this model is when our problems get to an extreme point, they are hard to fix.

Dentist Model

I would love to see us shift our view of counseling to the dentist model. I recently made an appointment to go see the dentist. In fact, I go see the dentist every six months. I go to the dentist whether I have a problem or not. I go even if I don’t have a toothache. My dentist even sends me a reminder postcard in the mail when it is time for my checkup!

The great thing about the dentist model is my dentist can look around and check things out. My dentist asks about any changes I have noticed. My dentist can detect when a problem might be starting, and offer an early intervention. If I do end up having a problem, the solution is often easier and less painful than if I had let the problem go a few more months (or years).

Don’t Wait to Get Help

Don’t wait to go to counseling until your situation is really bad! Go talk to someone even if your problem is small. Or go for a checkup every once in a while. Your counselor can look around and check things out. Your counselor can ask about any changes you have noticed in your life, work, or relationships. If there is a problem, the solution will often be easier and less painful than if you had let the problem go a few more months (or years).

Discussion: How do you think of counseling? Do you think it fits better with the emergency room or dentist model? What do you think about the idea of going to someone when your problem is small, or even going for a checkup? If you need help finding a counselor, check out my post on how to choose a counselor.


Related Thoughts

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  1. Jackson October 28, 2014 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Just think how well adjusted Charlie Brown could have been if he had seen Lucy on a regular basis!
    I totally agree that we need to view the counselors amongst us as athletic trainers. Of course some people take terrible care of their health and end up seeing a physical therapist instead!
    Interesting that we call them “therapists.” Maybe that is where people get the notion that when you are REALLY SICK you see a “therapist” to get better.
    Maybe counselors need to rebrand themselves and become “coaches” or ” trainers” or “mentors.” Maybe that will help people overcome the stigma of “seeing a shrink.”

  2. Joshua Hook October 28, 2014 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    I think you’re right-there is a stigma to seeing a counselor. As a field, we think and talk a lot about how to reduce stigma, but it’s still there. I grew up with two therapist parents (so the idea of counseling was pretty normal), but even I resisted going to counseling for a long time. But it has been so helpful!

  3. […] when people come to counseling, they are in emotional distress. If you are struggling, you might be in that place right now. Maybe […]

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