Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Make the Most of Counseling

It's a big decision to get some counseling. Usually, by the time a client makes the first call, they've thought a lot about how to solve problems and conflicts, and find themselves at a loss for ideas about how to make things better. It's not uncommon to hear strong emotion and tears on the phone. The first step toward relief is to schedule an appointment, but lasting relief comes through an ongoing commitment to the process.

It's one thing to get relief by making a call, taking a step to "get some help", and something quite different to commit to a series of appointments that will help to secure lasting relief and solutions.

Here are some tips to make the most of counseling:

1. Come to your first appointment prepared
  • Review information and consent documents sent by email
  • Bring notes/journal about what you want from counseling
    • What would you like to be different by the time counseling ends?
2. Expect to invest time and finances in 4-6 sessions for the first 6 weeks
  • It takes time for a counselor to "get on board" with you.  We need a lot of information to accurately conceptualize what is happening and why.  Then we can diagnose and recommend a treatment plan.
  • The issues that led you to seek counseling probably didn't develop overnight.  Give yourself (and your counselor) time to begin unraveling the complexities of your circumstances.
3. Do homework between sessions to extend the value of therapy
  • Growth and change from counseling doesn't just happen in the counselor's office; it happens any time a client(s) intentionally think, write and talk about their issues between sessions.
  • Some counselors welcome correspondence between sessions
    • Send journal entries, copies of therapeutic letters, etc.
    • Grace and Truth policy is to read everything a client send, and to respond as possible to questions and concerns that arise between sessions.  Generally this is value-added service, and not billable time (note: privacy of electronic correspondence isn't guaranteed; clients send such communications with this understanding; it is an option, not a requirement.)
4. Be direct with your counselor about what is helpful and what isn't.
  • Remember that a counselor is your servant.  You are compensating them for their time and expertise.  Don't be afraid to give feedback about the effectiveness of the process
  • Good counselors ask for feedback on a regular basis.  It is part of our ethic to measure progress, and it is unethical to continue a counseling relationship if progress isn't being made.
    • Here are some of the questions I regularly ask, "Has this been helpful? Are you getting what you hoped for? What would you like more or less from me?"
5. Expect to take a break from counseling at some point
  • The duration of counseling varies from weeks to months (rarely does it take place weekly for years on end).
  • Growth and change takes place in cycles.  Expect to take a break after resolving your presenting problems, and/or reaching a plateau en route to your end goal(s)
  • Most counselors welcome breaks, and return to counseling at some point of felt need in the future.
6. Don't be afraid to ask to transition to a coach approach to goals once pain and problems are resolved.
  • The relationship you have with a dually trained provider and the history you have together can provide a comfortable foundation for continuing work together on life goals (personal and professional).
  • At Grace and Truth, we sometimes begin with counseling, and end up with coaching.
  • Remember, counseling is generally about problems and pain, and coaching about goals, growth and change
Ultimately, counseling works if you work it.  To get the most from it requires significant investment of time and energy beyond scheduled counseling appointments.  It also requires commitment on the part of counselor and client to learn to work together in the most helpful way.  This happens best through honest exchanges about what is working and what isn't, with willingness to adjust on the part of the counselor and client.

Hopefully this will help you to make the most of counseling when you make the big decision to ask for some help.


Jeff Williams 
Professional Clinical Counselor
State of Ohio License E-#3098

No comments:

Post a Comment