Alright, not gonna lie—going to see a counselor can feel pretty weird! We don’t usually just meet someone for the first time and start telling them our deepest darkest secrets. Can you imagine? People would probably look at you funny. But that’s kinda how counseling works…which makes it intimidating. Understandably, people feel lost and unsure about what they can and cannot ask, say, or do in counseling—because they’ve never done anything like it before.
The good news is that you have a lot more control over what happens in therapy than you think!
Becoming familiar with this will help you feel more confident and help you get the most out of the experience. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know you could say/ask/or do in counseling:
1.) Share your story gradually and overtime
Although the counseling relationship is unique, it’s still a relationship, that’s built on trust and understanding (which doesn’t happen overnight). Don’t feel like you need to tell your counselor everything from day one (plus it’d be impossible to summarize a lifespan into an hour session). It’s OK if it takes time! Some people feel like they’d rather share parts of their story later because it’s too painful or uncomfortable—that’s OK too. The key is to listen to your instincts about what feels comfortable and to communicate that to your counselor. That being said…
2.) Tell your counselor when and if you feel uncomfortable
If you notice yourself feeling discomfort while talking about something specific, tell your counselor. This will inform them that it would be helpful to take more time or to take a different approach when talking about that particular subject.
3.) Tell your counselor if you don’t like what’s happening in counseling
Counseling is not a one size fits all experience. The techniques, strategies, and recommendations made by your counselor might be extremely helpful but they are also not for everyone. If, for example, you notice that you aren’t into that deep breathing exercise they suggested (especially after you’ve given it your best shot), let them know. This information can help them identify strategies that are better suited for you.
4.) You can say: I don’t know
At times, it’s tough to talk about our feelings, thoughts, and experiences simply because we never had to put them into words before. Counseling is not a test—it’s ok not to know the answer—sometimes the whole point of counseling is to figure out why and how something is the way it is. Telling your counselor when this happens can help you both slow down and focus on finding the words.
5.) Yes, you can talk about THAT too…
…because it’s all related! So often, people think because they were going to counseling to resolve one specific thing (ex: anxiety) that they can’t talk about something else that’s going on in their lives (ex: looking for a job). It’s actually helpful to mention the things that feel important to you, even if you don’t think it’s connected with the reason you went to counseling in the first place. More likely than not, the things happening in your life are related. I can’t think of anything that’s off limits to talk about in counseling…and if it is…trust me your counselor will let you know.
6.) Talk to your counselor about where you come from
You are more than what’s ailing you! Your unique identity, cultural background, spiritual beliefs, values, and unique experiences are important not only in making sense of what’s happening to you but in honoring what’s important to you during the therapy process. On that note, you can also…
7.) Ask your counselor about THEIR identity, cultural background, values, and beliefs
It can be helpful and at times vital that you know about who your counselor is and where they stand on specific issues. Counselors (especially culturally competent ones) will invite these conversations and find them valuable. Don’t be surprised if your counselor asks you why knowing this info is important to you—just be honest—it’s part of building a solid relationship with your counselor.
8.) Ask: What are your thoughts/reactions to what I’ve said?
You aren’t alone, if your idea of counseling is an image of you laying on the couch talking to a therapist while they stare blankly at you! I think the media has seared that image, of Sigmund Freud sitting stoically with his notepad, into our brains. Truth is, counseling is more of a collaborative and active process (and people sitting rather than laying on the couch!). If you find yourself feeling like you aren’t getting much feedback from your counselor—don’t hesitate to ask them what they’re thoughts and reactions are to what you’ve said. Don’t worry, they won’t be offended. Not only will it help you get clearer on what’s bothering you, it’ll help your counselor learn your preferences for more input and feedback during sessions.
9.) Ask: Why did you say or suggest that?
Similar to #8, you can certainly ask your counselor why they’re saying or doing something in particular during session. Ex: “Why did you suggest that I talk to my girlfriend about this?” Understanding the rationale behind how your counselor works, will help you make better sense of what’s happening in counseling and whether treatment is working or not working. On that note, don’t hesitate to disagree with your counselor. Ex: “No, that’s not exactly what I meant…what I actually feel is…” Again, your counselor won’t be offended. It’s more important that they know your thoughts, feelings, and personality so that they can adjust and tailor treatment to your needs.
10.) Can you help me find someone else to work with?
So the assumption here is that if you end up asking questions 1 thru 9, you’ll have a better experience in counseling and with your counselor. But that might not happen; sometimes it’s just not a good fit. If you aren’t vibing with your counselor, you can ask them to help you find someone that matches better with you. Counselors know and expect that they might not be the best person for everyone. Would you rather find another counselor on your own? Check out my step-by-step guide here.
Well, I hope this gives you the tools to have a great experience with a therapist in Austin. If you still have questions about whether something is OK to say, ask, or do in counseling, give me a call at 512-586-7001 and I'd be happy to help answer your questions or direct you to the right person. If you're looking for help with relationships, cultural identity, and self-esteem, you can schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation or read more about how I can help here.