Everything You Want to Know about Breakup Counseling – Heal Your Heart
Hi there! I’m Rai, and I want to help you start to heal. In this blog post, I’ll share my first-hand experience – the good, the bad and the ugly – of getting counseling after a breakup. I’ll tell you about the best counselor ever…and, well, I don’t want to say the worst counsellor ever, but let’s just say I felt worse after seeing him.
Before we dive in, I want to be straight up with you. I’m not a psychologist or a social worker. I’m just like you —- a girl who’s had her heart broken (a few times). I did all the things — the ugly crying, complaining to my momma, sleeping in bed all day, going to work cuz I had to, texting when I shouldn’t have, becoming a hermit, going out too much, thinking I’d never get over it…all of them. But the thing that actually helped me heal and truly “get over it” was to chat once a week with a trained professional and give in to getting counseling
Relationship breakdowns and feeling broken hearted are hard work (and they feel worse because you feel like crap, let’s be honest). And getting counseling requires a few steps, but I’m gonna break it down for you.
Here’s how I ranked them from “Super Hard” to “Not so hard”
- Make the decision to get therapy after a breakup (this is hard)
- Search for a therapist, (super hard)
- Choose from a list of official sounding names with lots of letters after them (hard again),
- Go to weekly sessions and (not so hard)
- Implement the guidance and advice I received (medium hard)
So, honey, after all that, I like to think I’m a semi-expert. I’m a professional at choosing a professional.
Let’s be real, a professional therapist can tell you about counseling from their experience. I can tell you about counseling first-hand account, from the perspective of someone who’s been there and gotten the relationship advice.
In this article, I’m gonna give you a behind-the-scenes look as you’re thinking about post-breakup therapy. And, I’ll tell you what to expect in a counseling session and give you some insight into the insider language they use.
Does getting counseling after a breakup help with soothing breakup pain? Perhaps you’re on the road to healing and you know getting counseling might help but you you’re confused about how it all works?
Or, maybe you haven’t given yourself permission to recognise the pain you’re in. After all, so many people go through breakups. How can you know when the pain has become too much and it’s time to stop unloading everything on your family and friends and start seeing a therapist after a relationship breakup?
Before we get started, I want to let you know that counseling is just one part of an overall plan to help you cope with your breakup, hopefully reading this will bring you one step closer to making a decision about getting the support you need and understanding
- where to find it,
- how much therapy costs and
- how it works during this time of healing.
Here’s what you can expect in our time together in this article:
- Does counseling help after a breakup
- My experience with the best counselor ever
- My experience with the most dismissive counselor ever
- The importance of finding the right counselor
- How to find the right counselor for you
- How to do the research without a massive interview
- Understanding the qualifications counselors have
- Understanding what happens during a counseling session
- Deciding if you need counseling
- Benefits of counseling
- BONUS – Understand the pros and cons of distance counseling
- BONUS – Does couple’s therapy after a breakup work
- BONUS – Other common questions people ask about counseling
So, let’s jump right in!
Does counseling help after a breakup?
So, first off, I want to answer the question that’s hanging in the air, “Does break up counseling work?” I can say a strong, “Yes!” It does.
The counselor has been giving me some great strategies on how to work through the anxiety and helpful tips on calming strategies. It has been equally important for me to
- be able to talk to a neutral person
- have my feelings be acknowledged and
- not feel like I was crazy
It was so goooood for my soul. I progressed so much just from those three things alone and began to start feeling better, like I was able to move forward.
In the same way, having a neutral person acknowledge your feelings and give you a plan to work through them after your breakup will transform the way you go through this season of your life.
The Best Counseling Experience Ever
I’ve had a few counselors over the years (mostly because of breakups), but the one who stands out from the rest is Rachel….and no, I’m not talking about myself although we do have the same name (Rai stands for something, right?)
I was living out of the country at the time and I was dating someone from the circle of ex-pats I hung out with. I liked him, but things didn’t work out.
Normally, when I’m in situations like that, it’s easier to deal with – I remove myself from that circle, I hang out with my family and friends, I change my routine, get counseling after the breakup and eventually life goes on.
This time, I was totally out of my element so plugging into my support system and finding a counselor was really hard!
I searched and searched online. I emailed a few people and did a bit of research. Finally, I found Rachel and decided to give her a try.
And I am so glad I did.
To this day, I still sometimes hear Rachel’s words echoing in my mind. She was compassionate, she helped me think logically through my situation, she was spiritual (which was important to me) and she was very wise.
I learned lessons from her that were just useful in life and not just in my healing process so she was the unexpected bright spot in my breakup experience.
At that time in my life, she was worth her weight in gold.
The Most Dismissive Counselor Ever
On the other hand, I’ve also had a not so great counseling experience.
After my first breakup, I used my job’s emergency counseling hotline. The breakup pain was so intense in the beginning it was distracting me from doing my job. I would leave the conference room where I was working to slip into the bathroom and cry. The situation replayed itself in my mind over and over again.
I called the counseling service the Monday after it all went down and booked myself immediately to see the counselor they suggested.
I remember him asking me what was going on as I sat there in front of him.
I began to share what had happened only days earlier.
I had just found out that my long-time, long-distance boyfriend had another girlfriend. In fact, she called my phone and left a message and invited me to call her back so we could chat. (Just so you know, I had no interest in chatting so I didn’t call her back). Needless to say, the relationship ended, but it threw my world into a tailspin and I was hoping this counselor would help me start the process of sorting my thoughts.
He sat across from me and listened, but then after a moment, he said,
“Usually, I am counseling families after horrendous car accidents and terrible tragedies. I’m not trying to belittle what you’ve been through but…”
That pause was enough. It spoke volumes.
The amount of time that passed was beginning to get awkward.
He seemed to be at a loss for words and the experience felt so dismissive of my feelings and what I was experiencing.
After his explanation I thought, of course what I’ve just been through doesn’t compare to a family who has tragically lost a loved one, but my pain is still real.
I left the session feeling just as dejected, if not more than when I arrived.
The importance of finding the right relationship break up counselor
It’s so important when looking for a mental health professional to find the right counselor. You want to find a therapist who specializes in your area of need. You’ll also want to connect with someone whose thinking is on the same page as yours and with whom you can experience your own personal growth.
This last point was really important to me. When I was going through my breakups, I wanted to share my situation with someone who was a Christian counselor because I thought it would influence the way they heard me and advised me.
So I started my search by Googling “Christian counselors in Chicago area“. From there, I found a website that allowed me to search within a certain radius, and I was able to keep narrowing my search until I found the right person.
So, when you start your journey to find a counselor you really connect with in your local area, a quick Google search might land you a few sites where you can begin your hunt.
You may want to start with terms like “breakup counseling near me”
Understanding your counselor’s biases
While I’m sure most counselors try to be as unbiased as possible, we’re all human, right?
So you might prefer a male or female or someone who is married or has kids.
And to tell you the truth, it may not be that any of this stuff will impact the counseling they give you, but it may make you more open to listen to and receive what the counselor is saying.
A big discussion these days is about helping people of color (like me!) find a counselor who understands their day-to-day struggles and can speak to their cultural experiences. The same can be said for family life – you may want someone who understands the struggle of being a mom, and that’s okay.
In a PsychologyToday article, psychologist Monnica T. Williams PhD and author of Eliminating Race-Based Mental Health Disparities: Promoting Equity and Culturally Responsive Care Across Settings, gives readers 10 questions to ask their mental health practitioner to really find out if their counselor is culturally aware enough to provide them with care as a person of colour.
How to find the right counselor for you
So here’s the hard part.
You’re struggling with a breakup or divorce.
You need some help to deal with your emotions. You need family therapy, relationship counseling or marriage counseling.
You sit down at the computer and get ready to start your search for a therapist. How do you sort through all the websites and directories and find the right fit?
Click here to:
There are a few things you can look for to make sure the two of you are on the same page.
So here are a few questions you might want to start with:
Question: Do I prefer meeting with someone in-person or would I prefer the flexibility and anonymity of an online counselor?
Answer: There are several pros and cons to both options
Pros and Cons of Breakup Counselling Online
Pros of Distance Counseling
- Some offices offer online counselling or you can go to a website like BetterHelp.com or FaithfulCounseling, which only employ qualified professionals to help you sort through your feelings
- Online counseling gives you the flexibility to communicate with your counselor between sessions. From experience I can tell you that with traditional counseling, you’re usually stuck to the once a week in-person sessions. After a breakup this can be the worst because you’ll have so many emotions in between sessions that you’ll have to manage
- Some people will see this as a pro and a con, but there’s no denying the convenience of meeting at home from audio, video or text chat. You will have the convenience of meeting from your home on video chat
- On online platforms, you choose a username and your counselor won’t have access to your real contact information unless you’ve put yourself in danger. This will give you a bit of anonymity when you’re in such a vulnerable situation.
Cons of Distance Counseling
- You’ll likely miss out on some non-verbal communication by meeting online
- There is the potential to feel disconnected from the counselor due to distance
- When I’ve done online counseling, one of the hardest things to deal with was the “live” text chats. I was in a rural area, with reaaaaaly slow internet so I couldn’t video or audio chat. The counselor and I were text back and forth and it was painful. This “live” chat chat is different from the messages you can leave your counselor. Those are basically like using instant messenger or e-mail. So the con here is that there is the potential for the sessions to feel impersonal when texting, especially when you use it for live chat instead of audio or video chat.
Pros and Cons of In-Person Counseling
- You will have the opportunity to meet with a qualified professional to help you sort through your feelings
- You will be able to connect with your therapist in person and experience non-verbal communication
- You’ll have the ability to receive physical materials, like books and handouts directly from your therapist
- You’ll experience the feeling of human connection through in-person meetings
- You may find yourself bottling up your feelings from week to week in between sessions
- There is the inconvenience of driving to your appointment through traffic after work each week
- You may cross paths with other patients in between sessions
- You will be making yourself vulnerable in person, in an unfamiliar place
Question: How do I search for a counselor?
Answer: When searching locally, simply go into Google and type in counseling + your city, like “counseling New Orleans” or “counseling St Louis” and start your search that way. See what results come up and use them as a starting point. Make a list of those that are closest to you, and then use some of the criteria we’re mentioning in this article to narrow the list down.
If you’re opting for online counseling, you can start with a service like BetterHelp.com.
Because there are a few steps in the sign-up process for online counseling, I’ve created a step-by-step guide to walk you through it.
But choosing based on geography isn’t enough. You want to give yourself the best chance to feel like your counselor understands you.
So, ask yourself another question.
Question: Do I have a specific value system that heavily influences my decisions, and is it important to me to get advice from someone who shares that value system?
Answer: I always start here in my search of a counselor.
We pay therapists to listen to our problems because we want to be heard and understood. In order to feel like we’re understood, we often take advice from therapists who share our world view.
This means things like value systems and shared culture. Many people factor religion, race, ethnicity and gender into their decision-making.
In choosing Rachel, I looked on the list of the available counselors. All of them were Christian woman. What set Rachel apart from the rest was that she was married with children. The context of her life spoke to me. I wanted to be where she was.
It’s simple to look at someone’s educational training, but it’s more insightful to understand what they value.
Your decision may not be as straight forward, as mine was. But if having a counselor who shares your value system is important to you, it’s worth doing a bit of searching in this area.
DISCLAIMER: I’d like to say that in finding someone who aligns with your value system, also understand that people can be open minded and respectful of your life while also not signing up for it themselves.
This is just a factor that I keep in mind when searching for a counselor.
Question: Does my therapist specialize in the area where I’m struggling?
Answer: Another way you can decide which therapist to see is by their area of specialty. Many counselors focus their practices on particular areas, like family therapy, women’s self-esteem, childhood trauma or marriage counselling, like a couple of the counselors you see in my example below.
Understanding a therapist’s area of specialization will give you a better understanding of whether or not the client-therapist relationship will be a good fit.
Question: Do I belong to a certain cultural group that has traditions or norms that are different from mainstream culture? Will having a counselor from that culture group make me more comfortable?
Answer: Because of the level of vulnerability you’ll have with your therapist, it’s important that you feel comfortable, and one of the ways you can feel comfortable is by feeling understood.
If you belong to a religion, culture or group that has particular norms and its own culture, it may be worth seeking out a counselor who can help you work through your struggles within your cultural context.
As an example, I went and searched for Muslim therapists in New York. If I were Muslim, I might want to receive therapy from someone who have a deep understanding of my culture, my norms and societal expectations.
Check out the results of our search below.
If you belong to a cultural or religious group with distinct norms, you can also conduct a similar search. All you need to do is swap out the city and your cultural group and you’ll have a great starting point.
Question: What type of approach does my counselor use to understand me?
Answer: Understanding how your therapist will interpret your behavior and thoughts is a very important way you can choose your therapist.
There are five different theories they might use in caring for you:
Psychoanalysis/Psychodynamic Theory: This approach is also called the historical perspective because it looks how experiences form the past shape present behavior. It’s rooted in Sigmund Freud’s research and uses techniques like dream analysis and free association. It believes by bringing up pain from the past, healing can take place.
Behavioral Theory: This theory says that by rewarding positive behavior and punishing negative behavior you can change the way a person acts. It’s based on research done by Pavlov and Skinner.
Cognitive Theory: This approach says your thinking can change your behavior. It’s often used along with Behavioral Theory and is useful with mental illnesses, such as anxiety, personality, eating and substance abuse disorders.
Sometimes Cognitive and Behavioral Theories are referred to collectively as CBT and they look at helping a person deal with the here and now and not digging deep in the past to find the root cause of the problem.
You can see an example of the way psychologists, counselors and therapists refer to these approaches on their website and in other materials by checking out the profile of a therapist from Family Institute at Northwestern University.
Humanistic Approach: This theory prefers to focus on the present instead of looking back at the past as well. It believes in the good in people and believes people can live up to their full potential if given a chance. The therapy is there to provide the nurture and care they need to fully develop into their best selves.
Holistic/Integrative Therapy: This final approach integrates theories from each approach and incorporates non-traditional therapies like hypnotherapy and guided imagery.
If you’re anything like me, you may have learned these theories in a College Psych class, but you haven’t used them much since then. Nonetheless, you can ask your potential therapist what approach they use in their counseling and if you don’t quite understand, ask them to break it down for you in a way non-psychologists can understand.
How to do this research without a massive interview
Okay, so I’ve given you a lot of information. How are you going to choose your counselor without a massive interview process? Here are a few quick things you can do:
What to do during your search
- Ask a few trusted friends for recommendations
- Take recommendations from trusted websites, like this one
- Do a Google search in your area using the affiliated groups you prefer (ie Christian counselors in Chicago)
- Do a Google search in your area using the specialty you prefer (ie Relationship Counselors in Chicago)
Check with your healthcare network
- If you’re from America, you may want to check with your healthcare network to ensure the counselor you’re deciding on is covered by your insurance plan
Try Online Counseling
- Search for online counseling service, like Better Help
What to do when you’re making a decision
- Once you identify a few practices, there will be a staff section. Click through a few profiles. Make a short list of those counselors who you most resonate with based on demographics, specialty, counseling approach and affiliation
- Narrow it down by the location that will be the most convenient for you to travel to regularly or narrow down the time of day and the day of the week you can meet online
- Identify a few that appear to be good fits and send an e-mail or place a call. Have a list of a few brief questions you want to ask and be aware that their schedule may be booked out depending on how busy their schedule is
- Decide on the best fit and set up your first appointment
What makes counselors qualified?
One of the most common questions people have when looking for a counselor is how do I know this person is capable of helping me with my problems? And this is a valid question. How do you know you can trust someone with your most vulnerable feelings and your innermost moments?
Well, anyone you go to see for counseling should have extensive qualifications in mental health care. You may end up talking to a
Australia: “6 years approved study or equivalent, with a minimum of a Master’s degree in Psychology OR. a 4 year accredited sequence of study (e.g. Bachelor of Psychological Sciences followed by an accredited Honours year) PLUS a 2 year internship (approved supervised practice in psychology).” – Psychology Careers – SEEK
America – “The doctoral degree is generally considered the entry-level degree for the independent, licensed practice of psychology as a profession in the United States. In addition to the doctoral degree, licensure for professional practice usually requires two years of supervised training: one year during the doctoral program (an internship in most cases) and an additional year after receipt of the doctoral degree (postdoctoral residency).” – American Psychological Association
Australia: “A course such as the Bachelor of Counselling or Graduate Diploma of Counselling meets the requirements you’ll need to apply for full registration as a Counsellor. As part of your course, you’ll also complete the amount of counselling practice hours (or work placement) needed for registration.” – Counselling Careers – SEEK
America – “To become a counselor, you typically need at least a master’s degree, although a doctorate is often preferred. You will also need to be licensed in the state where you practice, and licensure requirements vary by state. Master’s programs and subsequent licensure require a certain number of practicum, clinical, and internship hours for degree completion. – Counselor License
What happens during a counseling session?
Okay, so you’ve found someone to talk to and you’ve booked your first appointment.
You show up at their office and you’re sitting in the waiting room waiting to hear your name called…
What should you expect?
First of all, unlike every movie you’ve ever seen, you won’t be laying on a couch with a thoughtful, professorial looking old guy listening on with a notebook and paper as a pair of glasses sit perched on his nose.
You’ll probably be ready to spill your guts the first time you meet with your counselor because you’ve been holding in the emotions for such a long time, but the first time the two of you meet, it’ll likely be a time for your counselor or psychologist to assess the amount of support you have, find out some information about you and share their counseling philosophy with you.
Depending on how long the session is, you may not get the opportunity to really share your deepest sorrow at that time.
Then, you’ll find that in future sessions, you’ll begin the process of sharing the situation with your counselor and they will talk you thorough the process.
How many sessions will you need?
You may be wondering how many sessions you will need. This is something you’ll discuss with your therapist.
It’s not typical that they’ll tell you you only need five sessions and then everything will be better. They will continuously check on your progress over time and
In my experience, it’s always felt very natural when my counseling sessions ended. Both the therapist and I felt I was ready to stop coming or I moved to a new place and it was a natural time for the sessions to end.
How do you know if you need counseling?
Why do you need to go to a counselor instead of just chatting with your girlfriends or having a deep dive with your mom?
How can you tell when managing your emotional health has gone beyond having a chat with family and friends?
Especially if you’ve never gone to counseling before, it might be hard to know if you need it. You don’t need to be in a bad state of mind to get support in your emotional health. You don’t even have to be in a crisis state to get therapy.
- You may have decided to stop talking to your EX during the 30 day no contact period, and this is great time to get the support you need to make it through it.
- If you have something to talk about and work out.
- If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, especially if it’s keeping you from functioning.
- If you just want to sort your feelings. You may feel like they’re all jumbled in your mind and a counselor can help you sort them out.
Here are nine benefits counseling after a breakup with your ex may have to help you as you consider the best way to let your heart heal!
9 Benefits of Counseling after a Breakup
The benefits of counseling after a breakup are huge, and I can honestly say that it has been one of the most impactful things that has consistently helped me heal and get back to being a more fabulous version of myself after my breakups.
- They won’t choose sides or play favorites. Choose someone who doesn’t know you or your ex so they’re totally unbiased. This level of impartiality is something you should expect from a professional counselor, and this is much easier when the counselor doesn’t personally know or associate with either of you.
- You’ll find someone who is trained to listen and reflect. While your girlfriends are amazing, they’re not trained to really listen and reflect. A counselor is. They have studied the human psyche for years. They understand your feelings and are prepared to pause and listen. This is important.
- They won’t tell you what to do but they will reflect and help you decide what to do. While they have all the training in the world, they can’t live your life for you. So they reflect your goals and desires back to you as they listen and gather information from you. This doesn’t mean they won’t add their thoughts and opinions in from time to time, but they won’t make you feel like a pawn in your own life.
- They give you empowerment over your life. Through the sessions, you’ll find a good counselor will work to empower you to live your best life. This alone is worth going to the sessions.
- They will help you rebuild your confidence. Going through weeks of reflection will help you to rebuild your confidence over time. Breakups can steal your ability to stand up straight and proudly look yourself in the mirror. One of the benefits of counseling after a breakup is helping you rediscover your inner glow and sense of self-confidence.
- They will give you homework to do in between sessions. Between sessions, usually a counselor will give you some homework, like writing down your goals, recounting old memories, reading useful books or listening to certain music. Unlike the homework you got in school, this homework will push you along and help you progress in your journey of healing.
- They will keep your secrets. One of the best things about talking to someone not involved in the situation who is a professional is that they’re bound by the professional code of keeping your sessions confidential. Most won’t even say HI! to you on the street to help maintain your privacy and the confidentiality of the sessions.
- They will help you set and achieve your goals. Believe it or not, having goals can help you heal after a breakup. Your counselor will try to understand what you’re trying to achieve and guide you along the journey towards getting there.
- They will give you tools to be able to participate in your own healing. You won’t be a passive observer in this process. You’ll be given tools you can use even after the counseling session have finished.
Some people experience great success with online counseling or “distance counseling”.
There are services like Better Help that can help.
Distance counseling can let you connect with qualified counsellors no matter where they’re connecting from. For example, if you’re searching for “counseling meridian Idaho” or “counseling kalamazoo” and you’re coming up short, you can opt for a distance counselor to help you on your emotional journey
With a service like Better Help, you’ll log onto the system, share information about yourself and what you’re struggling with and you’ll be matched with a counselor who meets your needs. For a small monthly fee, you’ll be able to meet regularly with the counselor on a system like Skype or FaceTime, have online chats whenever you need them and send messages.
Although the face-t0-face element is missing, the counselor is much more available than traditional counselors who you meet in person.
Couples Therapy after Breakup
If you find that you and your EX agree that the relationship can potentially be repaired and you can opt for couples therapy after breakup.
Couples counseling after a breakup
Check with your counselor to make sure they’re trained in couples therapy before you begin the journey with them.
There are many benefits to getting counseling after a breakup. Let me know what your experience has been with counseling in the comment section! I’d love to hear from you!
How Counseling Helped My Break-up Recovery
After a long-term relationship, I had so many emotions jumbled inside of my head that weren’t easily sorted by just talking to family and friends. Have a neutral person to talk to who was also educated in mental and emotional health issues was a key part to my recovery process.
One thing I want to mention is that in order to get the most out of counseling, you need to put in some work. Your counsellor may have you homework or books to read. Your healing – how long it takes and how effective it is – can depend on your following through.
So, if you’re given a book to read or an exercise to do, follow through on it. In one session, I was given a mindfulness exercise to do some meditation that focused on my breathing and being aware of my senses. Of course I could just read the paper, but it’s not going to benefit me fully that way.
I just wanted to be upfront with you that while you will expect your counsellor to do a bit of the work, there is still some work you’ll need to do to encourage your heart’s healing process!
A place for healing
I want you to heal.
I want you to be a whole and complete person — more fabulous than you were before the drama started.
I want you to get better.
I want people to say, I thought she was out for the count but she’s got it together, she’s happy, she’s working it and she seems more content than she was when she was in the relationship.
And counseling can help you get there faster than you can get there by yourself!