Counseling may be the last thing on your mind when you find out you are pregnant, but it could be the first thing you need. To find out why counseling is so important, we talked to Justin Keetch, a counselor at a young mothers’ high school. Pregnancy is a “traumatic life change,” he says. “If you go through any life change, it induces a whole lot of stress… It’s a lot easier to go through that and to deal with the stress if you have a guide.”

It’s also important to have someone to talk to besides the baby’s father, family members, or others who may be directly involved. “You need to have somebody to turn to, somebody who is on your side, who is basically non-judgmental and not tied up in your family system,” Keetch says.

A counselor can help you make all kinds of decisions during your pregnancy and then help you deal with those decisions afterward. Keetch says the first thing a pregnant woman usually has to deal with is telling her family; a counselor can help you decide how you are going to tell them and what you are going to say. He says that if a woman and her parents have a good relationship, then “just sitting down and being straight about it usually works.” She should tell them what happened and then try to talk it through. However, if she is afraid of what might happen, it’s sometimes easier to tell parents in a “neutral environment” such as a counselor’s office.

Once you’ve taken this step, it is time to start thinking about how to deal with the pregnancy. You must choose from among three options: adoption, abortion or parenting. This is seldom an easy decision. According to Keetch, his job as a counselor is not to try to influence a woman’s decision, but to give her information and help her decide what she wants for herself and for her baby. That is important when it seems like everyone else wants to make the decisions. “When it comes right down to it,” he says, “I’m not here to preach; I’m here to help this person have the best life that they can and live with whatever choices they decide to make.”

Keetch encourages women to listen to what parents, friends and family members have to say about the pregnancy. However, he says “the ultimate choice lies with you, so it is most important for you to make the choice that you feel is best for you and your baby. A counselor can help you do that.”

If you want counseling and do not know where to find it, Keetch suggests some starting places. If you are in high school, there’s always the school counselor. If you are not in high school, you can try a church. “Many of the religious affiliations have a social services component,” he says. Also, there are the county health centers and women’s centers in hospitals. You can also find help by searching “Pregnancy Counseling and Information” “Adoption” or “Abortion Alternatives” online.

In addition to all of these resources you can call 1-866-678-6247 or go to www.unplannedpregnancy.com.