As a counselor, I am always interested to hear people talk about their experiences with other counselors – their perceptions of the process, the fears they bring into the counseling room, and the frustrations that arise over the course of treatment.
I see how frustrating it can be. You pay a large co-pay or session fee, sit down for forty minutes to an hour, and don’t get what you want. The better the counselor, the less frustration you run into. But, at the same time, no counselor is good enough to always do everything perfectly.
This got me thinking about the things people could do to get the most out of their counseling sessions. If you are going to counseling, I hope these thoughts can be of some use to you.
- Come to your session with some idea of what you want to accomplish or a topic you want to talk about.
In many of my sessions, I ask some form of the question, “What would you like to talk about today?” or “What would you like to accomplish during our time together?” I find that answering this question together provides structure and leads to a more productive session.
I have also found that the most common answer I get to this question is, “I don’t know. What do you think we should talk about?”
As your counselor, I am happy to facilitate the conversation. I am happy to ask good questions and direct the session to an extent. But, to be honest, I would much rather talk about what you want to talk about than what I want to talk about. Why? Because you know yourself better than I know you.
Can I be honest? It can be frustrating as a counselor when individuals bring something important up when there are only five minutes left in the session. Often, it’s a really important topic that we could have used the entire session to talk about, and I wonder why the person waited so long. Typically, individuals wait until the last minute to share information out of anxiety or shame, and I get how difficult that can be.
But my suggestion would be to plan ahead of time what you will bring up, and if you have something really important to talk about, commit to saying something about it within the first 10 minutes of the session.
- If your counselor does something or says something that bothers you, tell them.
“My counselor said X and it really hurt my feelings.”
“My counselor hasn’t told me what I can expect with Y, and now I’m so confused.”
“My counselor did Z, and I don’t understand why they did that.”
I have had some version of this conversation on over a dozen occasions since becoming a counselor. People relay to me something that their counselor did, said, didn’t do, or didn’t explain, and they feel upset about it. The counselor hurt them, confused them, or said something they disagreed with.
My question in these situations is always, “Did you tell the counselor it bothered you?” “Did you tell the counselor you were confused?”
So many problems that come up related to the counseling process and counseling relationship would be solved if individuals would speak up when they have a question, say something when they are offended, or be willing to openly disagree with what their counselor says.
Your counselor can’t read your mind. Although it is part of a counselor’s job to intuitively know what people want and need, we can’t get this right every single time. So tell us. It will make the process so much better for both of us.
- If you want something, ask for it.
Don’t only tell your counselor when they are doing something you don’t like; also tell them what you want and are hoping for.
Are you hoping for a something specific to happen in your sessions?
Are you hoping to bring family members along occasionally?
Would you like to spend more time talking about your work stress and less time talking about your past?
If you don’t tell your counselor what you want, he or she will head towards what appears to be most important. And what appears most important to them could very well not be most important to you.
- Know that your counselor has heard it before.
Up to this point, you can see how important it is to be completely honest with your counselor about where you are and what you need. I have found that one of the key barriers to this level of honesty is that people feel ashamed or anxious about their reason for coming to counseling.
But let me reassure you that unless your counselor is just starting out as an intern, they have heard it before. As much as it seems like the situation you are facing is unique to you, it’s not. Other people are experiencing the same thing, and your counselor has seen some version of your struggle before.
Your secret fears, your secret sins, your secret past. It’s all been said and done and talked about before in the very same counseling room you sit in.
After only four years of counseling, I can honestly say that nothing said in my counseling sessions shocks or surprises me anymore. I’m guessing it’s the same for your counselor. Bring a high level of honesty to your sessions, and see what happens when nothing is left unsaid.