How to Choose a Counselor or Therapist

Couple meeting counselor.

Lives of service members and their families are challenging at times, and you may find it helpful to talk to a counselor or therapist about what you're going through. There's no need to fear that counseling will negatively impact your career or the career of your spouse. We all need help sometimes, and the military offers that support. In addition to the confidential, free non-medical counseling available through Military OneSource, there are other types of counseling and therapy available through other avenues. Understanding your options is the best way to make sure you choose the right counselor or therapist for your individual needs.

What's the difference between non-medical and medical counseling?

During a counseling session, you'll work with a trained professional who will talk to you about self-identified areas of concern and help you find ways to cope with them. Your sessions can be individual (between just you and your counselor), with another person (such as your spouse) or in a group (perhaps your whole family).

Non-medical counseling, like the free, confidential counseling provided through Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counseling program, addresses other issues like:

  • Relationship concerns at home or work
  • Managing stress
  • Adjusting to change or dealing with a transition
  • Parenting difficulties
  • Dealing with grief or loss
  • Returning from deployment

Medical counseling, which is not provided through either Military OneSource or the Military and Family Life Counseling program, specifically addresses medically diagnosable issues such as:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Thoughts of suicide

What are the different types of counselors?

  • Social workers are trained to understand how people are affected by their environment, including their family and culture.
  • Marriage and family therapists focus more on practical counseling and are trained to deal with interpersonal relationships, including family and couple conflicts.
  • Mental health counselors help people cope with a particular concern or difficult life event. Some may specialize in a particular area, such as educational or religious counseling.
  • Psychologists are specially trained to use psychological and educational testing to help identify and resolve problems.
  • Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors specially trained to assess, diagnose and treat a patient's mental and physical condition. They are able to hospitalize patients and, in most states, they are the only therapists who can prescribe medication.
  • Certified pastoral counselors are members of the clergy with specialized training in psychotherapy. All service members have access to pastoral counseling by trained, qualified military chaplains through their commands and installations.
  • Licensed professional counselors generally have a master's degree in counseling or in a related field and provide general mental health counseling services.

Will my counseling sessions be confidential?


your appointment to get online help today.

Yes, with a few exceptions. State laws or federal and military regulations may require your counselor to report specific instances, such as:

  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse
  • Threats of self-harm or harm to others

How can I choose the best counselor for me?

Choosing a counselor is a personal decision specific to your individual needs and concerns. Military OneSource consultants, available at 800-342-9647, can help you figure out the best option for you by providing additional information. Regardless of which type of counselor or therapist best suits you, it is important that you find the help you need when you need it.


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