Eight ways for you to make the most out of counselling
Counselling can be an amazing opportunity to examine your past patterns of behaviour, assess what is and isn’t working for you and try out new ways of thinking and being. You might just be thinking about starting counselling or midway through a series of sessions. However, for most people counselling is 50 minutes in a jam-packed week. In our budget-conscious, time-starved society how can you maximise the benefits of that therapeutic hour? Here are some ideas about how you can make the most of counselling to promote powerful changes in your life.
1. Make counselling a priority
Prioritise counselling by attending regularly and on time. Try not to skip sessions without a good reason. If possible, make the most of the 50 minute therapeutic ‘hour’ by arriving early ten minutes before a session to prepare mentally and emotionally for a session.
Often, life can get in the way but if you want to make changes it’s important to make counselling a priority in your life. If you are finding attending regularly difficult or notice you are constantly showing up ten minutes late ask yourself why? Is the issue an emotional one – are you avoiding change? Or is it practical? For example if finance or time are an issue you could agree with your counsellor to meet fortnightly instead of weekly.
2. Set goals
Setting goals in therapy can help keep you and your counsellor on track and measures your progress. Goal-setting might be something your counsellor does with you. But even if they don’t, it is useful to set therapeutic goals yourself.
It can be hard at the beginning especially if you’ve never had counselling before to visualise what you want to achieve. So ask yourself what do I want out of counselling? What do I want to do more or less of? One useful task can be writing a letter to your future self visualising the changes you wish to happen. Imagine yourself at the end of working with your counsellor. How will you know it is the right time to end counselling? What would you feel like? How would those around you know you’d changed? How would your life look different?
3. Be open and share what you are feeling
Be as open and vulnerable as you feel able. At first it might be difficult to trust your counsellor and be honest about what is going on for you. It’s important to find a balance between feeling safe and pushing yourself to the edge of your comfort zone.
If you are finding it difficult to open up it might be useful to engage in what we call metacommunication or communicating about how you are communicating. For example, you could try saying to your counsellor: ‘I’m finding it really difficult to open up.’ Remember even though your counsellor has had extensive training they still can’t read your mind unless you open up.
4. Make counselling part of your life
Counselling is one of those activities where the more you put in, the more you get out. If possible try and give yourself time after sessions to decompress and think about what has happened. This might mean taking a walk or focusing on your breathing or jotting down some ideas of what you wish to work on this week. Build in some time throughout the week to reflect on the session. Some people find journalling about their feelings can help process what the session has thrown up for you.
5. Review regularly
Built into counselling should be regular reviews with your counsellor every six sessions with opportunities for you to feedback what has been helpful and what hasn’t. Although it can feel difficult at first, being honest with your counsellor and being open about what isn’t working for you can help make sure counselling is effective and meeting your needs. And you don’t need to wait for a review session. Often counsellors will offer back a reflection of what they’ve heard but if it feels like you are getting missed, please clarify. Doing this regularly can help you practise your assertiveness skills as well as ensure that counselling is meeting your needs.
6. Discuss the relationship
It can be useful to use your experiences of the counselling relationship as a mirror to discuss issues you are experiencing in your other relationships.The majority of people who come to counselling are experiencing issues around their relationships. Your counsellor might not be able to know what is happening out there but you both will have experiences of how your counselling relationship is going. The counselling relationship can be a useful microcosm for your other relationships. Are you worried about sharing something because you think your counsellor might judge you? Are you frustrated because you feel your counsellor misheard something you said? Are you thinking about ending counselling? All of these topics are grist for the therapeutic mill.
Simply talking about the changes you want to make isn’t enough. Most of the work happens outside of the therapy room where you try out new ways of thinking and being. Some counsellors might ask you to do home tasks or you might want to set a mini experiment for yourself. Trying things out in the ‘real world’ can help you see how these changes feel. If you normally come to counselling having planned what you wish to say, how does it feel to talk without a plan or vice versa? If you are normally very conscious of the time try turning the clock away and letting the counsellor maintain time boundaries. If you want to have a conversation with a difficult relative, you could try role-playing it with your counsellor using two chair work.
8. Be patient
It’s really important to be patient and kind with yourself as you go through this process. Often clients feel exhilarated when they first book a session. However it’s common in the first couple of weeks as issues are explored and emotions faced to start feeling worse. It’s not unusual for you to begin to feel worse before it gets better. Remember it might have taken many years for your issues to develop so it may well take some time for the changes you are trying to make a difference in your overall mood. Change takes time and it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself throughout this process as you move towards improving your mental health and well-being.
I hope this article has encouraged you to think about how you can make the most of your therapy? Let me know in the comments which tip you would give for making the most out of counselling.
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