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.