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HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF COUNSELING

As society has changed, counseling has become a more common service that people access when faced with emotional difficulties in their lives. Although health plans pay for a portion of the cost of these services, the cost of co-pays and co-insurance, as well as the time invested in going to counseling, can really add up. As you decide whether seeing a counselor is best for you or someone you love, consider these important steps that will help you or your loved one get the most from therapy.

First, set goals for care. What do you want from counseling? What will you or your loved one see differently in your life that lets you know this is helping? Set reasonable goals where you can have an impact on the outcome. For instance, a goal of “my family member will treat me better” may be important to you, but is not really something in your control. Family members may not be in counseling with you and, even if they were, still may choose to behave in ways that that you see as hurtful. A better goal may be “I will make good choices on how I respond to my family member’s behavior.” Other goals may be, “I will participate in hobbies at least 3 out of 7 days per week” or “I will get out with friends more often.” Your therapist can help you define your goals so that they are (1) reasonable to accomplish and (2) measurable, so you know when you have reached them.

Second, be honest with your therapist. Counselors are skilled in making assessments and asking about very personal issues, but they can’t know what you don’t tell them. It’s not always easy to talk to people about issues that have strong emotions to them, such as shame or guilt, but it is an important part of the healing process to discuss these honestly with someone you trust. Telling your therapist what is happening and how you are honestly feeling helps your therapist know what interventions or treatments can make the most impact in your life. Remember, your therapist is not there to judge you. Your therapist is there to help you through difficulties and support you in making changes in the way you think or respond to events. Being honest with your therapist helps your therapist give you the services you need.

Third, make a commitment to the process. On average, most people see a counselor 6-7 times. Expect that it will take more than 1-2 sessions for you to see improvement in your life. You will be challenged in therapy to think and behave differently. That’s part of the process of change and can be painful. Stay with it. Your ability to handle problems will improve as you work on the issues that brought you to counseling.

Fourth, expect to do activities outside of therapy sessions. Change is not what happens in a therapy session; rather, change is what happens outside of therapy. The therapy sessions are there to help you with the changes you are making in the rest of your life. Your therapist will give you assignments to do between sessions. These assignments are designed to help you think differently or practice acting differently. They will help you become more aware of your thinking and acting, which, in turn, allows you to experiment with different ways of thinking and acting. As you improve, your sessions will be spread out to give you more opportunities to work on changes in your life.

Finally, anticipate that therapy will have a beginning, middle and an end. You and your therapist will work together on measurable goals for you. Once those goals are met, it will be time for you to continue on your own. If you run into difficulty, you can always go back and see the therapist, but ultimately, the goal of therapy is to give you skills to live better without needing to see the therapist. That comes from your practicing the skills that you learned in counseling, building a group of supportive people around you and moving forward.

 

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