Getting the Most from your Therapy

Think about what you would like to get out of counseling.
It might be helpful to jot down a list of events, relationship issues, and feelings that you think are contributing to your distress.  Share this list with your counselor.  Take time before each session to consider your expectations for that session.  As counseling progresses, longer-term goals may emerge along with some ideas about how to progress toward these goals.

Take responsibility and participate actively
Don’t expect your counselor to make decisions for you or to “fix” you.  This is your counseling process.  You will get the most out of your sessions if you take responsibility for determining the course and content of the sessions, follow through on steps determined by you and your counselor, and discuss with your counselor any problems or circumstances that may be interfering with your progress.  Ultimately, your decisions and actions will set the pace and direction of your progress.

Be open and honest
Tell your counselor as much as you can about yourself and your areas of concern.  Leaving out important information makes it more difficult for your counselor to understand your situation and to offer meaningful support and guidance.

Expect to experience some discomfort
Self-exploration and change involve hard work, and the feelings and thoughts stirred up in the process may be painful.  Your counselor will help you to express and to work through these challenges, and former clients typically conclude that the benefits were well worth struggle.

Therapy is hard work
Be prepared to do some work.  Make your scheduled appointments a priority. Irregular attendance of counseling sessions may slow your progress.

Read the messages from your own body
Your body is continually giving you messages about your feelings.  The open or closed position of your arms and legs, sweating palms, shakiness, rapid heartbeat, queasiness, difficulty breathing, etc. all communicate important information about your emotions.  It’s important to share these messages with your counselor.

Expect periods of silence
Although it may seem odd, some of the most important gains in counseling occur in moments of silence.  Use silence as an opportunity to attend to your thoughts and feelings and to open yourself to new insights and ideas.

Expressing your experience
Remember that feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are all important to discuss. People sometimes focus on only one of these areas, at times to the point of virtually ignoring the others.  However, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors all play an important role in the development of problems, and all three need to be addressed when working to solve them.

Consider how you feel about the counseling relationship
Since a good working relationship is vital to successful counseling, you will want to experience a satisfying level of trust and understanding with your counselor. Nonetheless, self-exploration and change involve hard work, and sometimes painful feelings are stirred up in the process of healing. Therefore, it may be unrealistic to expect that you will feel completely comfortable at all times with your counselor. Counselors are trained to pay close attention to these issues and will probably encourage you to discuss these feelings openly. Because counseling is a mutual enterprise, you and your counselor may also make adjustments in your working style to better meet your needs for both encouragement and support.

Talk with your counselor about what’s working and what isn’t
If you have been in counseling before and found some aspect or method particularly helpful, let your counselor know what it was.  Likewise, counselors appreciate hearing that they have done something that has been helpful to a client, as they can use this information to guide their future efforts. Conversely, if you feel you would benefit more from a different approach or direction, talk with your counselor about that, too.  Ask questions about anything that concerns or confuses you.  Be inquisitive. Absolutely ask questions — about your therapy, your progress, your therapist — about anything you are unsure of or that you may not agree with.

Try to be patient
If you have been struggling with an issue or a problem for a period of months or even years, it may not be possible to overcome it in just a couple of counseling sessions.  Be patient with yourself. Growth takes time, effort, and patience. All of your coping skills, behavior patterns and self-perceptions have been learned and reinforced over a long period of time. Changing what has become such an integral part of yourself is very difficult and at times slow. By having patience with yourself and accepting and understanding the natural resistance we all feel toward change, you set the foundation for developing and changing in more appropriate and satisfying directions.

Let your counselor know when you feel it’s time to stop
Your counselor will want to know when you are ready to end counseling.  He or she might make recommendations that are either supportive of your decision or that encourage you to reconsider.  However, you are the one who is in control of when your counseling experience will end.

(Suggestions for getting the most from your counseling were compiled and condensed from James Madison University, University of California at Santa Barbara, and New Directions Counseling)