Personal Issues & Mental Health Resources

A Guide for Community Counseling Services

The information here is designed for everyone: teacher, parent, student or any individual who has made the decision to seek outside help. Once this decision has been made, the issue of finding the right professional becomes very important. It is our hope that the guidelines presented here will lessen your anxiety about finding the right counselor and result in a more positive experience for you.

The Community Providers

A variety of professionals are qualified to provide therapeutic services depending on the type of problem you are experiencing:

Selecting a Community Provider

While many people turn to the yellow pages to seek assistance, I would suggest a different strategy. Perhaps the best place to start the selection process is to ask family members, relatives, close friends, your physician, a teacher, clergy, or someone else you trust.

Ask them what they liked and disliked about the therapist. Who do they recommend?

When you call a therapist or clinic, remember that you are the consumer and have the right to ask questions to gain as much information as possible prior to making an appointment.

Questions to ask when looking for a therapist:

  • Is the individual and/or agency licensed by the state to provide outpatient mental health services?
  • Who will I see? (If you have not been referred to a specific individual)
  • What degree do they hold?
  • What type of certification do they have?
  • What is their area of specialization and does it include training/experience in treating the kind of problems I am experiencing?
  • Are they comfortable working with spouses, children, parents or other family members if needed?
  • Are evening or Saturday appointments available?
  • How soon can I schedule an appointment? How often will I be seen?
  • What is the fee? Can they bill your health insurance? Or if you do not have mental health coverage, do they have a sliding fee scale?

The Therapeutic Process

During your first visit you may be asked to fill-out forms including one on family information and a health insurance form. At a state-certified clinic, you will be asked to sign and then receive a form explaining your rights as a client. There might be other paperwork depending on the clinic you have chosen.

The first session typically involves an explanation of how the counselor/therapist works, gathering background information, an in-depth discussion of the problems you are experiencing, and an initial plan of treatment with recommendations. Sessions will usually last between 45 and 60 minutes.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Did I feel comfortable? Did I feel the therapist was easy to talk to? Did the therapist seem to understand my situation? Was I honest about the issues or problems that led me to seek help? Did I express my expectations for counseling? Do I understand my rights as a client including the right to confidentiality?

At the end of your first session or at the beginning of the second meeting make sure you ask any questions you have or voice any concerns that you have about counseling or the therapist. This is important to a good working relationship. If you believe this is not the best person for you, then you will want to look elsewhere.

General Observations of Therapy

A therapist is both a client advocate and an agent of change. This means that you might be confronted on your behavior/actions on the one hand and supported or encouraged to look at making positive choices on the other hand.

Since a therapist is a change agent, very few people go for help hoping to keep everything the same! Therapeutic counseling is not about changing other people in your life. Therapy is about making changes in your own life. Change can be painful and difficult at times, but a competent therapist can guide you through this process. Everyone can benefit from counseling at one time or another whether it is in the form of advice and support from a close friend or from a professional. There is nothing wrong in asking for help; rather than being a sign of weakness it is a sign of strength.

Suicide Prevention

How you can help a suicidal friend:

If a friend of yours has threatened suicide, you may be a big part in saving their life because suicide believe it or not IS PREVENTABLE! For some, it is easy to convince yourself that the problems of the world are minor and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but others just aren’t that easily swayed. IF you try to help and all efforts fail, try these few suggestions in helping to alleviate the tension to die.


Listening is a door opener. When you listen for the feelings behind the words, you communicate two very important messages: your friend isn’t an idiot and they have valid problems, and you care enough to want to help. Once your friend starts talking, try to listen without making judgements or giving advice. Your tone should reflect your genuine sympathy and supportive feelings. Interested questions are helpful, but statements that begin with ” Why didn’t you.?” Are not helpful because they steer the conversation toward blame and shut down communication.

Statements such as You’ll get over it soon” imply that you don’t take their problems seriously. Be alert for words and phrases that suggest suicidal intent. Statements such as the following may be meant quite literally: “Everybody’s against me, I wish I were dead” ” I’m so frustrated, it’d be better if I just kill myself” ” I can’t make anyone happy, what’s the point of living?”

The way to find out if a friend is suicidal is to ask. This will not “put the idea in his or her head”. In fact NOT talking about his or her suicidal feelings says you don’t want to help and actually robs your friend of the chance to reach out and get help. DO take seriously anyone who talks about suicide. DO tell your friend how you feel. Communicate your caring and that you’re a safe person to talk with.

Get Help

This is often the hardest step, especially if your friend asks you not to tell anyone. DO get help even if your friend is reluctant to accept adult help. If the help is from the school, your friend may fear that their problems will become a part of their school record or be discussed like it’s the biggest topic of everybody in school. If the help is from relatives, they may be concerned that their parents will be told about matters that they consider private. If the help is from professionals, they fear it will “prove” they are mentally ill. DO NOT delay if the situation is an emergency. Get help from an adult as fast as possible: a school staff member, a family member, a counselor, or if necessary, the police. DO ask for help yourself when you don’t know what to do for your friend.

Be Aware of the Warning Signs

There is no typical suicidal victim. It happens to young and old, rich and poor. Fortunately there are some common warning signs which, when acted upon, can save lives. Here are some signs to look for.

A Suicidal Person May:

  • Talk about committing suicide
  • Have trouble eating or sleeping
  • Change drastically in their behavior
  • Withdraw from family and friends
  • Lose interest in their hobbies
  • Make a will or final arrangements
  • Give away prized possessions
  • Have attempted suicide before or has a history of suicide in the family
  • Take unnecessary risks
  • Be preoccupied with death and dying
  • Lose interest in their personal appearance
  • Increase their use of alcohol or drugs
  • Experience a prolonged depression

What to do:

Contact a school counselor or school social worker immediately.


Unfortunately, the use of self-injury by adolescents appears to be increasing across the United States and, all too often, parents, families, and friends are ill equipped to respond effectively when learning of a friend’s or loved ones’ use of self-injury. The purpose of this article is to provide accurate and useful information to assist you in understanding and responding appropriately to someone who is using self-injury.

Myths surrounding self-injury include:

  1. It is a suicide attempt.
  2. The person is crazy and needs to be hospitalized.
  3. They just want attention.

Self-injury is NOT a suicide attempt. It is often a coping strategy that prevents a suicide attempt. While, on rare occasions, a self-injurer could accidentally cut too deeply and require immediate medical attention, suicide is not their intent.

Hospitalization may be required due to accompanying mental health issues, such as depression, but self-injury usually does NOT require hospitalization.

Self-injury is a private and secretive act. Every attempt is made to keep others from finding out. Self-injurers usually wear long sleeves and pants to hide their scars. If a scar is seen, they will attribute it to an accident, such as, “ The cat scratched me” or “I fell”. Self-injurers rarely tell close friends, fearing a negative reaction, such as, “You’re sick” or “That’s disgusting”. This holds true for telling parents as well, fearing they will “freak out”.

Understanding Self Injury (SI)

It is crucial that self-injury be seen for what it is, an unhealthy or maladaptive coping strategy. SI is a way to deal with strong, uncomfortable feelings and/or high levels of stress that usually results in temporary relief for the individual. For this reason, telling a self-injurer they must stop or “watching them around the clock” is counter-productive. Reacting by punishing your son or daughter is equally unhelpful. While well intentioned, you may only increase the pressure they feel to self-injure. The most helpful response is to really listen to how they are feeling and attempt to understand what they are going through. You are not approving of or condemning the use of self-injury.

Please keep in mind that they are “not doing this to you”. It is something they are doing to themselves. After finding out about a friend’s or family member’s use of SI, encourage them to seek professional help.

Getting Help

While it is very important to seek professional help, it is absolutely critical that your son/daughter or friend receive counseling from a professional who is comfortable dealing with individuals who use self-injury. We encourage the use of a “phone interview” when contacting an agency or clinic. As the consumer, you have the right to ask questions in order to determine if the counselor/therapist has the training and experience to deal with self-injury. You want a counselor that understands the need for the self-injurer to develop new and healthier ways of coping with their problems. Someone who insists that the client needs to stop using SI or insists on a contract to abstain from SI before developing new coping strategies is a poor choice. This approach would likely lead to additional pressure and increase the likelihood of self-injury occurring.

Additional information on seeking professional assistance is available on the counselor web page. If you would like more information on self-injury, please contact one of the school counselors or school social workers listed below: