This is a guest post from our dear colleague Ericka Martin, a fellow therapist who runs Star Meadow Counseling in Vancouver, WA. To learn more about Star Meadow Counseling, you can check them out here.
Most people start the counseling process with a readiness for change. Some may not know the specifics yet for how they’d like that change to look (maybe that’s why they’re in therapy), but in some way, they are not 100% satisfied with the status quo.
When you step through the doors of our counseling office, we know you are sacrificing your time, emotional energy, and finances to work toward your change goals. You are intentionally prioritizing your mental health and well-being. You are worth it! We want you to get the most out of your sacrifice.
In this article, I’ll outline a few tips that will help maximize your time in therapy, so you can get the most out of your journey in counseling.
BE YOURSELF. Counseling is a place where you don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to put on a happy face (unless you genuinely feel happy!). It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and it’s okay to say “This conversation is hard for me.” It’s okay to giggle, have your mind go blank, burst out in tears, or speak an unpopular opinion. The confidential nature of therapy is part of what makes it a safe space to be yourself. A good counselor will offer a non-judgmental, supportive setting.
DO THE HOMEWORK. Often, the most beneficial work of therapy happens outside of the therapy office, where you apply the concepts you are working on in the real world. You will get the most out of therapy if you are giving the homework a try. Hopefully, you will find most of the homework to be helpful; however, sometimes it might only partially help and other times it might not help at all. The results of your effort matter. Your counselor will ask about what happened–what worked and what did not work. This will help you and your counselor to troubleshoot coping skills, tailoring them more specifically to where you are getting stuck.
GIVE HONEST FEEDBACK. Counselors are not psychics; they cannot always know you are struggling, confused, holding back, or stumped unless you say it out loud. Sometimes counselors will tread on ground that you might not be prepared to discuss yet. Your honest feedback is welcome and will help you progress at a pace that fits your readiness.
ATTENDANCE COUNTS. Clients tend to make the most progress when they are meeting with their counselor on a weekly or every-other-week basis to start. Once-a-month therapy is typically reserved for clients who have achieved most of their goals and are only fine-tuning subtle points. Missed appointments = Missed momentum.
REVIEW BIG-PICTURE GOALS. As therapy progresses, it can be extremely helpful to pause periodically, zoom out, and take a look at the bigger picture. Where have you come? And where are you headed? Often, clients are so caught up in this week’s problem and this week’s to-do list that they lose track of the progress they’ve made over time. Your counselor is like a time capsule that can remind you of where you were when you first started, the steps you took to get where you are, and the strengths they’ve observed. Revisiting treatment goals can also help you identify specific areas where you have ongoing work to do. It is important for you and your counselor to be on the same page about how to prioritize your work.
Check out our FAQ page to review other commonly asked questions about the counseling process. You don’t need to have it all figured out before you schedule that first appointment. It’s natural to have lingering questions and even fears about starting counseling. Your readiness for change is what matters most! We’ll be here to help.