Counselor Support

How To Find The Right Counselor

With a splotchy red face and tears dripping down my cheeks, I had just shared intimate details of my life. An hour later, having used lots of tissue and now less money in my purse I wasn’t going back. The therapist was competent and reputable. But the chemistry wasn’t there for me. It’s important to know how to find the right counselor before your first counseling appointment.

Before you bare your soul to a counselor, it's important to find the right fit for you. Click To Tweet

Some clients feel cheated paying counseling fees at their first session if it’s not a good fit.

Here’s things to consider before you hire your mental health counselor or relationship therapist. Some may be more important to you than others. These items will help you get clarity for the therapist that’s right for you.

Do your research before contacting a licensed professional counselor.

Of course, it’s always helpful to get recommendations from your friends, family, or doctor. But do your own research as well. What may be a good fit for your sister’s marriage, may not be a good fit for yours. Each individual and relationship is different.

Many therapists advertise on Psychology Today, or Top Rated Marriage Counselors or other counseling platforms. Start with a google search in your area. If you’re looking for marriage counseling, just type in marriage counseling in or near your city.

  • Read counselors profiles, specialties, and blog posts. Some even have introductory videos.
  • Find out how long they’ve been in practice.
  • Discover whether they’re “general practitioners” or if they specialize.

Make an initial connection with a counselor through their online presence or profile.

If you’re just too anxious to make that initial phone call, send a short email. You can say something like this:

I’m interested in counseling. Do you offer free consultations? 

Or you can say this:

I’m interested in counseling. Would you please call me at (your phone number) on Monday afternoon? I have a few questions to ask. 

Don’t assume you’re obligated to schedule a counseling appointment with that first connection by phone or email. It’s OK to shop around.

Here’s things to consider at a first encounter with a counselor:

  • How long does it take to receive an email reply? You should hear back within 24 hours.
  • The counselor may not offer free office consultations, but may spend 15 minutes on the phone with you. If so, pay attention to how you feel on the phone with them.
    • Do they sound rushed?
    • Is their voice warm and inviting?
    • Is it fast or slow?
    • Abrupt or calm?

Some counselors choose not to have contact with clients before meeting them at their first appointments. Their assistants may be the only initial connection. Decide if that’s acceptable to you. You are the one who decides what’s best for you. Your preferences matter.

It’s proper and necessary to interview two or three before hiring the right counselor for you.

Whether you’re choosing a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, or a mental health therapist, you’re the one doing the hiring for their expertise. Just as you would hire a contractor or mechanic, mental health professionals are providing you services.

View yourself as a client or patient who is making an informed choice. It’s easy to be intimidated by a person’s title or initials after their name. You are just as important as your provider. They just have issues you don’t know about. We are all human beings worthy of respect, dignity and worth.

Avoid anyone who makes you feel “less than.” Whether you’re struggling with substance addiction or a mood disorder, you’re no less than the doctor or therapist who is treating you.

Don’t leave your first counseling appointment feeling cheated. Save your tears for the right one.

Sign up for a free 20 minute consultation.

State of your marriage

How Long Does It Take To Improve Your Marriage

When it comes to couples counseling, we all want to know how much time, energy, and money it will take for lasting improvements. A common question is: How long does it take to improve your marriage through relationship counseling?

It takes more than 21 days to improve your marriage

The 21-days-to-make-a-habit advice has been a myth all this time with no scientific backing. It’s more evident with what we know about neuroscience. It actually takes anywhere from 90 to 66 days depending on the particular habit.

In my work with clients, I tell them it takes 90 days for new neuro-pathways in the brain to form new associations. Different ways of thinking, behaving, and relating takes consistent practice. Just as regular workouts in the gym train our muscles, our intentional thoughts and behaviors train our neuro-connections.

Whether you’re learning a foreign language or ballroom dance steps, it takes about 90 days to learn a new skill. Click To Tweet

Your idea of empathic communication with your spouse may be as challenging as learning a foreign language. If you can’t keep a beat to a radio pop song, you may initially be just as clumsy when you learn dialogue skills with your partner. But you can learn. Your brain is designed to learn new things.

Muscle memory and mental associations in our brains are made to connect.

We are all wired to grow, connect, and continue growing in relationships. Click To Tweet

Beyond the counseling stereo-type to improve your marriage

My work with couples is different than the stereo-type of what you see on movies or TV. You may imagine a couple sitting on the couch together side by side, looking to the counselor to equally hear both partners’ sides. The therapist is neutral, balanced, and unbiased. (sounds a bit un-human to me)

Although a first session may look like that, Imago Therapy is different. Instead, the couple sits across from each other face to face. The therapist sits “outside” their relationship, coaching them with speaker-listener skills. With gentle guidance, encouragement and awareness, they learn how to make the space between them emotionally safe.

How many counseling sessions to improve your marriage?

“How many sessions does it take?” you ask.

The answer varies. For some it’s twelve weekly ninety minute session. For others, it’s weekly for the first month, and twice a month for the next 90 days. Beyond that, ever other month check ups are a great plan. Some may only need six month check-ups similar to regular dental cleanings.

Beyond the neuro-pathway factors other considerations are these:

  • Are you in a crisis or just need a tune up?
  • Do you both have an attitude of I’ll-do-anything-it-takes?
  • How motivated are you as a couple to follow through in-between session?

In order to begin dialogue skills to improve your marriage, keep in mind it takes about 90 days. It will take additional time to master it for continual growth, intimacy, and connection. And don’t forget the periodic booster sessions to keep growing toward each other.

Questions to improve your marriage

On a scale of 1-10 how full is your love tank?

How do you feel in each other’s presence?

3 Secrets to Unexpected Change

How to move beyond the brick walls of the unexpected.

  1. Move beyond first impressions.
  2. Lean into the good, bad, and ugly emotions.
  3. Surround yourself with cheerleaders.

If you’re like me, you could pinpoint a single incident that triggered a storm of unexpected change. You have thoughts of:

If only I’d done this or that.

If I were more attuned, then I would’ve . . .

It can’t be just me. . . and what’s really going on? Why didn’t I see this coming?

Whether it’s unresolved conflict with a boss or lasting negative impressions you knew nothing about, the decision for change wasn’t yours.

You felt left out of the equation. Attempts at resolve were like brick walls.

I needed at least a full eight months for my own mental shifts and emotional preparations. Time crunch. Holidays. Stress. Obligations. Family visits. Pressure. Overwhelming emotions. Fear. Worry. Risk. Eight weeks later.

Here are three things I’m learning (or re-learning):

Move beyond first impressions.

From finishing old business to meeting with new colleagues, I’m learning to be curious rather than judgemental. Isn’t it so natural to judge? Yes, there is a Judge who bears my name.

As my husband scouted out several office spaces, he saw a particular office that could be a right fit. He described the character of the historic building; the beautiful wood floors and tall ceiling. It’s just the right space to facilitate your small groups.

It would be the perfect space for me if it weren’t for the close-up brick wall view out the window.

I wasn’t open when he told me about the brick wall.

The massive window reached nearly to the top of the 15 foot ceiling. It’s width took up the entire wall of the room. The brick view was another building just a few feet away. No trees, no grass, no flowers, no feeling of the outdoors.

My husband said, You can see the sky when you look up.

I didn’t consider it. I didn’t even look.

Now, several weeks later, I’m settled into my new office at the Clearstory building. The brick wall view out my window now has new meaning.

Here’s what others have said after being in this space.

  • It’s perfect for a counselor’s office. . . No need for curtains on that window. The brick wall gives privacy, yet lets in the light.
  • It’s a metaphor. Our problems are like brick walls. You can’t see what’s on the other side, yet the blue sky is indication there IS another side.  
  • Awesome that you have a brick wall to look at through your window. You can enjoy the outdoors without the distractions of cars or people.

Lean into the good, bad, and ugly emotions.

Emotions are meant to be temporary guests in the home of our lives. Click To Tweet I’ve been a guest at a few airbnb‘s (an economical alternative to staying in a hotel). Most have been pleasant and others not so much. But all were temporary.

Treat all emotions as temporary guests rather than permanent residents. Both “unpleasant” and “pleasant” guests (good, bad, ugly emotions) are teachers. Anxiety, fear, and worry all have purpose. God designed us all to feel.

Pay attention to feelings and messages you may otherwise ignore.

Our experiences, decisions, and emotions in life reveal purposeful patterns. Pay attention to you how you’ve handled past changes. What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned from unexpected changes? 

The more I pay attention, the more clear I become.

Dignity in Relationships, a Life by Design has emerged through recent and past growth experiences in my life.  

Surround yourself with cheerleaders.

My virtual mentors, Michael Hyatt and Jeff Goins have been invaluable to me. Folks like Matt Wolf and Bradly Will helped get me started with online presence. Marvin Varghese and other therapist podcasters remind me of cheerleading mantras of my high school days.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, hey. 

I’ve grown since moving my practice and rebranding my services.

I’ve come to appreciate the entrepreneurial support in our city.

I’m thriving on the weekly group support and mentoring of Co-Lab and the Co-Starter program. Tennessee Small Business Development Center has provided me help through mentoring, counseling, and seminars.

Embrace the Brick Walls of Change

Now every time I walk into my office and see the brick wall window view, I’m reminded of three things.

Move beyond first impressions. Lean into the temporary guests of emotions. Surround yourself with cheerleaders.

Questions to Ponder

What unexpected change are you facing now?

What emotional guests have stayed too long?

Who are your cheerleaders?



Who Doesn’t Want to be Liked?


A generous cartoonist, Joe McKeever, drew my picture recently! I attended the Southern Christian Writer’s Conference in which he was a workshop presenter. He graciously offered to draw the image of each of the 200 participants! I gladly sat before him with a smile. In less than five minutes this gifted man connected with me while he drew.

I loved how he made me look younger and thinner than I really am. He focused on positive features. I felt honored by his drawing.

Although I posed and smiled, this experience made me curious about how others see the outline of my life. I became aware of what I see in the outline of others’ lives. What is it that I look for as I encounter others?

We all have levels of connections from brief acquaintances to intimate relationships. What we look for in others and how we present ourselves creates atmospheres of acceptance or rejection and anything in between. Who doesn’t want to be liked? Here are three things to be conscious of with new connections as well as deep relationships.

Smiles are inviting.

Some of us smile naturally. Others don’t. Those who don’t may have been born that way. Some toddlers have serious looks on their faces while others smile with their entire bodies. For adults, let’s assume that smiling naturally is easier for some than others. Michael Hyatt’s recent podcast addressed the importance of intentionally smiling and how vital it is for all of us, especially those in leadership.

Be genuinely interested in others.

Recognize that each of us long to be heard and understood. Making eye contact with another person is a tremendous gift of attention. We can be so busy to go through the check out at the grocery store that we don’t notice the personhood of the one behind the counter. Many who serve us wear name badges. Looking them in the eye and saying, “Thank you, (say their name)” can make a huge difference in their lives. If I come across someone whose name seems complicated, I’ll even ask how they pronounce it. I’ll say it back to them with a thank you. It’s a way to honor them.

Look for positive qualities in others.

Most of us know what it’s like to purchase a new or used vehicle. Our focus on what we buy brings our attention to the same vehicles on the road we didn’t notice before. We find what we look for. In the same way, if we have critical attitudes toward ourselves, we’ll be critical of others. If we are intentional to look for positive qualities in ourselves, we’ll look for positives in others.

I’m blessed to be on the receiving end of Joe’s attention and positive outlook in his cartoon drawing of me. May each of us be intentional about the outline of our lives; how others see us and how we see them.

Questions to ponder:

What positive traits are you drawn to in others?

How are you seen by acquaintances?  by friends? by family?

How has this article been helpful to you?

Breathe in Awareness


I made a blunder when I hit the “publish” button rather than the “save draft” button on the last post. Some of you received an e-mail ready to read my post, only to get “Oops, this page couldn’t be found.”

I must confess another blunder several posts ago when I copied the wrong RSS feed and published another subscriber’s comment to everyone. I imagine some of you got unwanted email from me that day. This part of my apology is overdue. At the time, I spent a lot of energy with a tech from my e-mail service to figure out what I did wrong so it could be fixed right away. I was hoping you would overlook it at the time. Now I’m wondering that the combination of these blunders may be eroding the trust I’m trying to build with you.

You deserve quality content and utmost respect for your email inbox. I confess my inexperience and impulsivity. Please forgive me. I do want to assure you that I’m continuing to learn, and grow, and develop as I write and post.

With that, I’m taking a deep breath now. . .

This is the portion I intended to send.

Most of us have experienced certain conversations that require us to take in deep breaths of air. Whether the communication is personal or business related, we might experience a gasp of excitement or shock. Our bodies respond with involuntary rhythms of air through our lungs. Anticipation, dread, worry, fear, and energy are signals to the soul.

Perhaps it’s God’s way of getting our attention.

Not only particular conversations need deep breaths of air, but certain circumstances do. For example, I’ve experienced waves of anxiety where the walls of the room seemed to be closing in on me. Other symptoms like shallow breathing or sweaty palms can interfere in the moment.

Medical procedures usually trigger such responses. My breathing became shallow while sitting in the dentist chair as I anticipated a root canal procedure. Another time, during a yearly mammogram, I almost fainted because I forgot to breathe. It was so embarrassing!

Other than occasional moments of forgetting to breathe, most of us don’t even think about it. We’re able to take in a deep breath of air. . . . we can breathe in openness. . . we can breathe in courage . . . we can breathe in the air around us.

Breathing in air is so natural for most of us, isn’t it?

. . .unless we’re a newborn baby emerging from our mother’s womb gasping for our first.

. . . unless we’re on our deathbed, gasping for our last.

Everything in between birth and death is our substance for life: AIR.

May each of us breathe in the apologies that we need to make. . . the forgiveness we need to give. . . the learning curve we need to learn. . . the continued risk beyond our comfort. The breathing space between our birth and death are the choices we make.

Thank you for your patience. I’d love your feedback!