You’re in counseling! CONGRATULATIONS for taking this step towards healing and uncovering the best parts of yourself. Mustering up the courage to start counseling and wading through all the options out there…all while you’re feeling your absolute worst…is nothing short of AMAZING. You’ve managed to push past all of that to finally get to a place where you can start feeling better again. (Take a moment to let that sink in--you’ve got some fight in you!)
But now what? What happens next?
How can you make every single counseling session count?
After all, you don’t want to be in counseling forever, right?
Here's my short list of tips:
Tip #1: Ask Yourself: “What are my goals?”
Sometimes, when I ask my clients about goals, they say something like “I want to feel happy again.” That's an absolutely valid and meaningful goal BUT it’s not very specific. You and your counselor will want to know exactly what it means to be “happy again.” What will you be thinking, feeling, and doing once counseling is all said and done? Asking yourself this question will help you inch closer and closer towards your goals each week.
Oh, and if you’re answer to the goal question is “I don’t know.” That’s OK too! Just let your counselor know and they’ll help you sift through where to start and what to begin working on.
Tip #2: Be Prepared to Feel Bad Sometimes
Oftentimes, people are confused by the experience of counseling because it doesn’t always leave them feeling good. Feeling crummy from time to time can be an unpleasant part of the process but it’s totally normal and worth it. In counseling, you’ll be talking about the painful stuff that you’ve possibly avoided for weeks, months, or even years…SO of course, it'll feel bad sometimes when it’s all being brought back up again, right?
Counseling is more like physical therapy than a relaxing massage—the exercises hurt like hell, but eventually your muscles get stronger, feel better, and become more flexible. Same with counseling! Don’t let the initial discomfort deter you…keep at it and make sure you take good care of yourself between sessions…which leads me to tip #3!
Tip #3: Practice Good Self-Care
Feeling drained after your last counseling session? Totally normal (see tip #2)! Taking good care of yourself will give you the stamina to keep at it. Self-care means: eating healthy, getting enough sleep, making time to be creative, going out in nature, spending time with loved ones, and just being plain 'ol kind to yourself. Also, talk to your counselor about self-care ideas. They can help you come up with a list that’s specifically useful to you.
Tip #4: Attend Sessions Regularly and Consistently
I get it, life is busy and complicated, and because of how tough counseling can be, you might want to skip out on it from time to time (see tip #2). But the more you attend, the more you will gain. Canceling sessions regularly will only postpone your progress. If you’re noticing an urge to cancel often, it’s possible that counseling is getting to be a bit much for you right now (which is totally normal). Just let your counselor know. They might suggest slowing down or even taking a break from sessions.
Tip #5: Come Prepared to Sessions
This goes back to tip #1. What do you want to achieve during this week’s session? What’s on your mind? What do you want to talk about? Your counselor might have some thoughts about the direction of therapy but ultimately it will be most effective if it lines up with what YOU want. So, speak up and tell your counselor how you’d like to focus your time together.
Tip #6: Work on Your Therapy Goals During the Week
Guess what? The magic of therapy doesn’t happen in the counseling session! It happens during the week, in your day-to-day interactions with yourself and others. You’ve got to take what you learn during sessions into the real world. Ask yourself, how will I inch myself closer to my goals this week? What small step could I take to improve my situation? If you aren’t sure where to start, talk to your counselor. They can help you come up with ways to apply what you’re learning from counseling into your weekly life.
Tip #7: Take Notes During the Week
As you start to work on things, you might notice having thoughts or experiences that you want to talk to your counselor about. Trust me, write them down so that you don't forget. And writing them down can help you keep track of how the things you’re working on are progressing over time. You can keep these in a journal or a handy dandy app (there are many out there to choose from).
Tip #8: Express Yourself
Although counselors are great communicators, they aren’t mind readers. Don’t expect them to know exactly what you need or exactly what would be helpful when you've only said two words. Counseling is a collaborative process that requires input from you. If you aren’t sure what you can say, ask or do in counseling, check out the article I wrote exactly on that topic here.
Tip #9: Slow Down
No matter how badly you want things to improve, counseling will not cure your concerns overnight. Change is a slow and takes time. It’s unrealistic (and frankly unfair to you) to think that after YEARS of challenges, you’ll be better after a month. When you break it down, that’s ONLY FOUR HOURS of counseling (i.e., an hour session for four weeks). Most people are just starting to get comfortable with the IDEA of counseling by then. So, be kind to yourself, pace yourself, and take it one step at a time.
Tip #10: Let Your Counselor Know If You’re Done With Counseling
Often, people decide they’re done with counseling (for whatever reason) and just stop going. When you think about it, that’s a pretty anticlimactic way to close out all the hard work you’ve done. Talking with you counselor when you’re ready to end counseling can be one of the most powerful conversations you’ll have. They’ll be able to tell you about your progress thus far, give you recommendations on what to focus on next, and even give you helpful referrals if you want to start working with someone else. On that note, if you have any feedback for your counselor, it’s a great opportunity to share it with them. Don’t worry! They won’t be offended and will appreciate learning about ways they can improve their work with others.
Overall, know that counseling is an active, collaborative, and evolving process. It can sometimes be tough, but it’s worth it! We have decades of evidence that shows it’s an effective method at helping people reach their goals, especially when they stick to it. So, congrats again for being on the right track. If you aren’t sure if counseling is right for you, don’t hesitate to give me a call (512-586-7001) or email me. I love to help people talk through this important decision. If you’re looking for help with anxiety, self-esteem, or relationships, learn more about my services here or schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation. I’m happy to help!