What you put into counseling is what you will get out of it. Here are a few ways to maximize your sessions.
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This was originally posted in October 2020 and has been updated.
You are not alone in seeking counseling. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 43% of adults in the United States received treatment for mental illness in 2018. When I asked readers about the reasons why someone does not go to counseling even though they need help, a few themes came up:
- There is a stigma associated with counseling
- Fear of judgement by a stranger
- Family patterns of perceiving counseling something negative
These barriers are real! However, there are difficult seasons in our lives. Also, some of us have had traumatic experiences. As we talked about it other posts here and here, counseling can provide you with the opportunity to heal.
Additionally, it can be a method to acquire some healthy tools to handle life. If you can get past these barriers to give counseling a chance, as one reader shared “it changed my life” – it can be life changing.
I’ve been on both sides of the counseling equation. I have provided counseling for youth as an educational psychologist. I learned so much by working alongside youth to get through challenges! Likewise, I’ve gone to counseling myself when I was going through some of my own rough patches. For example, the end of a relationship.
Here are some tips to get the most out of counseling:
1. Ask For Recommendations
Finding a therapist, like most things, is like dating. You need to find the right match in order for you to do the work. The therapists I have seen in the past were both calm, active listeners, and pragmatic. For example, they mirrored the way I like the view and interact with the world. That meant that I was able to connect with their feedback and follow through.
Additionally, consider how race, ethnicity, and gender may influence your level of comfort. You can can consider resources such as Inclusive Therapists and Therapy for Black Girls to find a therapist.
If the therapist doesn’t seem like the right fit, keep looking.
The single best predictor of whether therapy will work is whether you and your therapist is a good fit.Source: Psychology Today
2. Say What You are Thinking Without a Filter
A skilled therapist will make connections between your behaviors, thoughts, and statements. They will bring to light your assumptions that may be impacting your life negatively. Therefore, if you hold back, you will miss out on some much needed insights.
Mentioning seemingly unrelated points also can be helpful. For instance, “a discussion about their work brings to mind a memory from their childhood that doesn’t seem to fit, and we work to find the connection.”Source: Psychcentral
3. Keep the End in Mind
Likewise, most therapist will terminate services once they feel you are ready. I think of counseling as a training to prepare to handle the range of situations life throws at us. It’s a space to develop tools to cope with the hard things in life. Once you have the tools, you may not need to continue to see your therapist as often or at all.
Dime En Español
Un terapeuta experto establecerá conexiones entre sus comportamientos, pensamientos y declaraciones. Sacarán a la luz sus suposiciones que pueden tener un impacto negativo en su vida. Por lo tanto, si se detiene, se perderá algunas ideas muy necesarias.
4. Take and Bring Notes
It’s tempting to wait until your session to reflect on your progress and feelings. For instance, you might go blank and forget something that was on your mind. In contrast, if you come with some thoughts you want to discuss, the session will be more meaningful. Try this: take notes during the week regarding your feels, thoughts, or situations that made you pause. This is your time and your work. Speaking of time…
5. Time for You is a Gift
Think of your time in counseling as a gift. We keep going and going sometimes without reflecting. Counseling gives you a chance to freeze time and review what is going on. More importantly, how you are processing the situations that come up.
Just like everything, we are all different. The counseling experience is unique to each individual. These are resources that helped through difficult seasons:
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