So you’ve decided to begin counselling. You dedicate an hour of your time every week (with some approaches it could be more) and you pay for the service. How can you make the most of your therapy? Here are a few suggestions.
Choosing a therapist or a counsellor
This could be a daunting and anxious process. After all, you’re contacting a stranger to share very personal issues. You need to feel comfortable talking to them.
Some counsellors offer a trial session or a consultation so that the client can get a feel of what it is like talking to them and to find out a little bit about how the therapist works. When you share your reason for coming to therapy the counsellor can say if they have any experience working with similar issues or if it would be more appropriate to contact another professional.
Don’t hesitate to voice any questions or concerns – you may want to know how the counsellor keeps your information on file or maybe it’s important to you that your counsellor is LGBTQ+ or vegan allied/affirmative, or maybe you read the counselling contract and there was a part that did not make sense to you.
Whatever it is – say it. Put all unnecessary anxieties to sleep by voicing them so that you can focus on the issues that made you contact the counsellor in the first place.
You may also want to check the approach the counsellor uses, their credentials, and experience to ensure that they are equipped to help with your issue. Many counsellors/therapists train for the profession later in life.
This means that they may bring relevant knowledge from a previous job and a level of understanding to the way they work which may be beneficial to you (e.g. I have worked extensively with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and have a good awareness of the cycle of abuse and trauma bonding, and how challenging it can be to walk out of such a relationship). Often counsellors describe such experience on their profiles but you can also contact them and check.
If it is still difficult to decide if this is the right counsellor for you after the initial session I would suggest committing to a certain amount of appointments before making a final decision. However, you shouldn’t stay longer once you know that this is not working for you.
It could be beneficial to set realistic goals at the beginning of counselling, e.g.: managing your anger; becoming more assertive; overcoming a night eating syndrome, etc. Knowing what your goal is can indicate how you’re moving in the counselling process and if there is any change at all.
Setting goals, however, can be tricky because while you’re in therapy events may occur with the potential to stall your progress or even reverse it temporarily (e.g. a sudden death of a loved one). Sometimes additional matters that also require attention come to the surface, like unresolved childhood trauma for example.
As a client you will be able to establish if counselling is working for you, regardless of the circumstances; just be realistic and fair with yourself when setting time frames.
Work with your counsellor
Being involved and proactive can only help your progress. You can tell your counsellor what you want to work on. If anything stood out for you in the session, make a note of it and give yourself some time to reflect. Those who keep a journal may find it particularly beneficial during therapy to focus on triggered thoughts and feelings.
The majority of the healing process happens when you’re not in the counselling chair, so nurture it. If you notice any strong feelings, changes of mood in between appointments – bring them in your next session.
Some counsellors give homework to their clients to do in their spare time, others may just suggest what you could try outside of the counselling room. If you think these may be beneficial for you, give yourself time to complete them. During the next appointment, you could give feedback to the counsellor on whether you found the activities useful.
Be frank with your counsellor – about your work together – what works and what doesn’t; any strong feelings you may be feeling in that particular session. Be honest if you haven’t done the homework they asked you to complete or even if you don’t feel like being in the room with them at that moment.
If you feel like cancelling your next session for no apparent reason but you know there are still issues you want to address it would be best to attend and discuss that with your counsellor. There could be a subconscious reason for feeling like this.
Sometimes clients feel like they need to censor themselves in a session, often in the early days of therapy, out of fear of judgment or because this is how they have been conditioned. Be as authentic as you can, so if your counsellor said something that upset you – let them know. The chances are that you and your therapeutic relationship will benefit from it.
Minimize any distractions
When you attend your session, make sure that your phone is on silent so that you can focus. If you are responsible for children or vulnerable people or you are expecting a phone call, tell your counsellor and leave your phone on vibrate.
With online therapy, the distractions tend to be more. Try to find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed or overheard and you won’t feel the need to edit yourself talking.
If you booked your appointment during your lunch break, it can be very distracting to have emails pop up while you’re engaging with deep feelings or maybe even tempting to quickly respond with a line to your boss. If this is happening, then you’re not engaging with your counselling and likely wasting your time and money.
It may be a good idea to turn your work phone off and log off your email. If you work with a shared calendar, make sure that it is updated and you are marked as unavailable for the duration of your session. If you can’t always rely on your lunch breaks, try and arrange your appointments before or after work.
These sessions are for you, make the most of them.
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