How to Get the Most from Your Counselling

By Helen Tang, RPC, CHt, CMA

The counselling process is a learning process, and regardless of the challenges that brought you to counselling, here are some valuable tips to help you get the most benefit from your work with your counsellor.

Counselling / Therapy is An Investment in Yourself

In a culture of instant gratification, people are often looking for shortcuts, miracle solutions and effortless “tricks”.  Unfortunately, most important life changes usually take a little longer to achieve.  Good counselling not only addresses the most pressing issue of your current life circumstances, it also helps you to define the kind of person you aspire to be, and to support your growth in the direction you have set for yourself.  Like any worthwhile investment, counselling requires a certain commitment of effort and time, but the benefits can last a lifetime.

Maximize Your Value from Each Counselling Session

Think of your counsellor as your life coach or consultant rather than an all-knowing problem-solving guru.   Arrive at your sessions prepared by spending a little time beforehand reflecting on your goals, your needs and what you would like to work on.  Think about your next step that supports and relates to your larger objectives, and think about what you want to learn, resolve and achieve with counselling. 

A common yet unproductive pattern in counselling is to show up and say to your counsellor: “I don’t know what to talk about.” 

Preparing and reflecting before your sessions take some effort, but are valuable in the long run.  The medical model of you going to your doctor telling him/her about your symptoms and getting a prescription drug that takes care of the illness does not apply to the way how counselling works.  The outcome of your therapy is in direct proportion to your effort.  Participating actively and taking responsibility for your learning can shorten the length of your therapy.

Be Honest

Be honest, reveal and disclose yourself.  Sometimes people self-censor what they perceive as irrational thoughts or uncomfortable, painful or shameful things.  Other times, they judge themselves for having concerns over “trivial things” and choose not to bring them up in sessions.  Sharing your thoughts and feelings that are relevant to your goals is highly encouraged as it can lead to much more effective therapy. 

At times, people have worries or concerns about counselling (or their counsellor), but are afraid to bring them up in the session for any number of reasons.  Acting as though everything is ok will only impede the effectiveness of the counselling, the best thing to do is to speak up.  A good counsellor is open to discussing your concerns without being offended or defensive, and he/she will appreciate your feedback.  If you don’t understand something your counsellor says, ask him/her to clarify or explain.

Counselling is teamwork, your counselor is your guide especially in the beginning when a new client lacks experience.  The counsellor needs your cooperation to help you move forward, you can contribute by participating actively and being honest about your feelings and thoughts.

Homework Helps

If your counsellor assigns homework, it is often a good idea to try the exercises as they are valuable extensions of your counselling sessions.  In order to maximize your learning, it helps to stretch your comfort zone and try things that are new, unfamiliar, and perhaps challenging at first. 

Celebrate Small Successes

Share any small successes you have noticed with your counsellor.  Success does not happen overnight, and let’s not forget, small changes are the building blocks of larger ones. Challenges aren’t the only things allowed in the session, it is important to pause and celebrate small successes as they really are significant.  Your counsellor will also appreciate hearing changes you’ve made in the right direction.

Commitment

There are lots of legitmate reasons to quit, for example, genuine concerns over your counsellor’s capabilities (ie, he/she is not listening to you, is condescending, dismissive, incompetent and etc.), ill fit between you and the counselor, or no progress has been made after an extended period of time.  Otherwise, it is important to persist; quitting therapy early means you miss the opportunity to work through issues. 

At times, in the course of counselling, things may become tougher and feelings may get stirred up, but it is important for you to face your fear and your challenges.  Running away by quitting when things get tougher will only make your fear greater and your challenge more difficult.  Remember your goal(s) and what you aspire to be, commitment to the counselling process often takes you one step closer to your goal. 

Leaving Therapy

It is customary to have a discussion with the therapist about termination before leaving therapy.  If you terminate the process because you feel you have done what you needed to do, let your counsellor know ahead of the time, instead of announcing it at the end of the last session or by a phone message.  The wrap up session is important as you’ll receive valuable input from your counselor.   You will receive valuable support, be better prepared for going it alone, or have discussions about how to tell if one needs to come back for further assistance.  For some people, it is best to wind down by reducing the frequency of sessions before leaving therapy completely.

If you are leaving because you don’t feel your counsellor can help you any further, it is a good idea to have a discussion with him/her.  It is not unusual for such a discussion to stir something up which can then surprisingly lead to breakthroughs.  For some people, breakthroughs are preceded by a buildup of frustration and a sense being blocked, a discussion may be exactly what’s needed to create an opening.  If your counsellor really cannot help you, he or she will likely be able to provide you with a referral to a colleague who may be more suitable for you.

If you are leaving for financial reasons, it is also best to discuss it with your counsellor first, as you may be able to work out an alternative plan that will see you continuing your counselling while at the same time addressing your financial concerns.

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Helen Tang, RPC, CHt, CMA

Registered Professional Counsellor & Couples Therapist

Office:  #105 - 15284 Buena Vista Ave., White Rock, BC

Phone: 778-868-4094
Contact Form: click here
 
Email: Helen Tang
 

Providing individual & couples counselling services to the communities of White Rock, Surrey, Delta & Langley, BC

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