Counselling is not a quick fix solution, it is more a process; a process through which individuals can come to a greater understanding of themselves and their relationships with other people. During the counselling process new ideas and ways of thinking may emerge, enabling you to engage more appropriately with the world and your caring role so that you are able to cope with your life in a better way.
Counselling can help you identify steps you would like to take towards working through, and resolving, your problems. It can be hard work and you might feel quite emotionally drained and heavy by the end of a session, but in the few sessions you might begin to feel lighter, more positive and more energized.
Counselling can provide long-lasting benefits and can provide you with coping skills to help you stay grounded, and help you modify behaviours that you would like to change. The end result of effective counselling is personal growth and self-awareness that empowers you to take control of your life and enjoy positive, life-affirming relationships with others.
Trust your gut feeling – if you feel that you aren’t connecting with your counsellor, talk about it. We are all different and therefore we ‘click’ better with some people than we do with others. If you don’t feel comfortable with your counsellor, and it doesn’t get any better after exploring this with him or her, then maybe the best option is to find a different counsellor – your counsellor might be able to recommend another counsellor, so do ask.
Be honest and open – if there’s something you want to say, say it. Share what you are feeling. Or if you feel that you’re avoiding a particular issue, then tell your counsellor – it can be really useful to look at ‘avoidance’. If you feel embarrassed or ashamed, or something is too painful to talk about, don’t be afraid to tell your therapist. Slowly, you can work together to get at the issues.
Attend regularly, and on time. Clients who attend regular weekly sessions, especially in the early days, seem to get more out of the counselling than those whose attendance is more erratic. However, if you have to attend fortnightly you will still benefit. Perhaps commitment to the process is what is most important; that, and making the counselling a priority; especially in the early stages.
Make a commitment to your counselling. Don’t skip sessions unless you absolutely have to. If you are given ‘homework’ to complete in between sessions, be sure to do it. If you find yourself skipping sessions or are reluctant to go, ask yourself why. Are you avoiding painful discussion? Did last session touch a nerve? Talk about your reluctance with your therapist.
Allow yourself some time and space after each session to gather your thoughts together, if possible. Maybe have a short walk before driving home, so that your mind isn’t on other things when you’re driving.
Spend time between sessions reflecting on what was discussed in the previous session. If you are having counselling as a couple, spend time together reflecting on this.
Reflect on how you’re feeling on a daily basis – this will help you to feel more comfortable talking about your feelings. You might find it useful to keep a journal for this purpose – but remember to keep it somewhere safe and private.
Be patient with yourself and with the process. Growth takes time, effort, and patience. All of your coping skills, behaviour patterns and self-perceptions have been learned and reinforced over a long period of time. Changing what has become such an integral part of yourself is very difficult and at times slow. By having patience, and accepting and understanding the natural resistance we all feel towards change, you set the foundations for developing and changing, and for ultimately living your life in a more appropriate and satisfying way.
Be prepared. Before you go to your sessions, think about how to describe “what’s wrong,” and how to describe your feelings. One way to prepare is to write it down first. You could try reading it out loud after you’ve written it down. Hearing yourself say it a few times will help you describe things more clearly to your therapist.
Take time before each session to consider your expectations for that session. This will help you to be able to focus on a particular issue earlier in the session, rather than it taking most of the session to pinpoint that issue, and then running out of time to explore it more.
Be an active participant. This is your counselling process; the sessions are generally client-led, so don’t be afraid to be an active and confident leader!
Don’t expect your counsellor to tell you what to do. You are partners in your recovery. Your counsellor can help guide you and make suggestions, but only you can make the changes you need to move forward.