How to get the most out of Counselling
Counselling and therapy are opportunities to work on things in your life, and to find more satisfying and rewarding ways of living. Research shows that therapy can be very helpful for many people, and that most clients leave counselling or psychotherapy feeling very much better than when they started.
However, research also shows that the more clients know about therapy before they start, and the more they put into it, the more they are likely to get out of it.
For this reason, I have provided this information to tell you about the therapy I offer, and how you can make it as helpful as possible for you.
A counselling menu
There are many ways in which I can help you. I like to think of myself as providing you with a therapy “menu”, so that you can decide, with my support, what you would most like to work on. Some of the issues that clients often choose to focus on are:
- talking through an issue in order to make sense of what has happened, and to put things in perspective;
- making sense of a specific problematic event that sticks in your mind;
- problem-solving, planning and decision-making;
- changing behaviour;
- negotiating a life transition or developmental crisis;
- dealing with difficult feelings and emotions;
- undoing self-criticism and enhancing self-care;
- dealing with difficult or painful relationships.
Often, clients find it most helpful to work on these issues on a step-by-step basis. One of the ways that therapy may help is that I can work with you to disentangle the various strands of the problem, and help you decide what needs to be dealt with first.
A flexible, personalised approach to helping you
- Think about what you want from therapy
- Think about what would be most helpful for you
- Be active between therapy sessions
- Give me feedback
- Open up and being as honest as possible
- Have patience
- Have realistic expectations
- Be motivated and committed
- Be willing to find your own answers
- Think about our counselling relationship
- Prepare for the ending
The counselling I offer is based on the belief that people who come for counselling are experts in their own lives (even if they don’t feel like they are), who have lots of potentially good ideas about how to deal with their problems. One of the main roles of a counsellor, as I see it, is to help the person make the best use of their own experience and understanding.
This means that my approach is to try to be as flexible as possible in responding to your needs. What I find is (and this is backed up by research) that different people are helped in different ways. For instance, what some people find most helpful in their therapy is to express their feelings – sadness, anger, fearfulness.
Other people find it more helpful to take a rational approach to their problems, and to use the therapy to “think things through”. People can shift, over the course of therapy, from finding one kind of activity helpful, to then preferring to work in a different way.
The following sections look at some of the ways you can prepare yourself to get the most benefit from the therapy you receive.
It is important for me to know what it is that you want to achieve in therapy – what your goals are. Your goals are a kind of “contract” or agreement between you and me, which specify what you want for our work together.
At the start of therapy, most people find it hard to be clear about exactly what it is that they want to achieve. They have maybe only a vague sense of what they want to get from therapy. This is perfectly normal – I will encourage you to talk about your goals, and gradually they may become clearer. It is fine to have lots of goals, or just one.
It is fine for your goals to change. What is important is to let me know what it is that you want from therapy.
One of the ways that you can get the most from therapy is to spend some time on your own thinking about your goals, before the first session, and between sessions. It can be useful to write your goals down, so that you don’t forget them. I can give you a form on which to do this. It is also useful to let me know if your goals change.
As mentioned earlier, there are big differences between people in respect of what they find helpful in therapy. There is little point in me trying to work with you to tackle a problem in a particular way if you think that the approach being taken is a waste of time!
It is very useful, therefore, if you can think about what you believe might work best for you, and share these ideas with me. You can do this by thinking back to times when you have had problems before, and identifying what was helpful or not helpful for you at these times.
For instance, some people find it useful to be taught how to behave in certain ways, others find it useful to “blow off steam”, and for others, what is most useful is to try to solve problems in practical ways.
Sometimes people like us to agree “homework”, “experiments” or projects” to complete between sessions. Others prefer not to do this and that is fine too.
Regardless of this, it is still useful for you to think about what has come up in the therapy, whether you are getting what you need, how the therapy can be improved, and so on. It can be hard to remember these thoughts, and one option is to keep a therapy diary, where you can write about what the therapy has meant to you.
Apart from keeping a journal where you write about your therapy, it can also be a place where you can write about your thoughts and feelings on a day to day basis. This can help you to increase your self-awareness and also contribute to the success of your therapy.
Effectively tailoring the therapy to your specific needs is only possible if you are willing to give honest feedback to me. I use brief questionnaires at the start of each session that you are asked to fill in. These provide me with information about whether the therapy is being effective, and if any aspects of it need to be changed. These questionnaires can also be useful for you in terms of tracking your own progress.
I will also ask you for feedback and comments at the end of each session, again using a very simple and short questionnaire. This asks you to rate how satisfied you were with the session. Questions include whether you feel heard, understood and respected? Did we talk about what you wanted to talk about? Did you think that my approach was a good fit for you? And lastly, how satisfied were you with the session overall?
When giving feedback, it is really important to be as honest and detailed as you can be. I genuinely want to help you, and do not want you to pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t. Giving me honest feedback also gives me a chance to fine tune things for future sessions.
It’s natural to feel nervous at the start of counselling. It can take time to feel at ease and you need to go at a pace that feels comfortable for you. However, as the sessions proceed, you will hopefully feel more able to open up, as your trust in me, and the counselling process, grows.
Talking about distressing and painful thoughts, feelings and memories can be hard. Perhaps you feel ashamed or embarrassed about certain thoughts feels, and behaviours. I am not there to judge you but to offer you acceptance, understanding and a place where you can be yourself. The more you can open up and be honest about what is troubling you, the more you are likely to benefit from your counselling.
If you’re finding it hard to open up, please tell me. We can then look at ways to help you feel more trusting and secure.
Just as your issues may have taken some time to develop, it can take time to understand and explore them, and work out what you can do to make things better. The more complex and long-standing your issues are, the longer you may have to work on them in counselling, as opposed to issues that may have developed recently and are relatively straightforward.
In addition to this, most of us can be quite reluctant to change. Changing can be scary. We often want to hold onto our old ways of being even if they are not serving us well. Or we want the change to happen instantly, as in a quick fix. This is understandable and part of being human. But, real and lasting change takes time and cannot be forced. Furthermore, counselling is more of a process than a quick fix.
Having patience is also a way of being kinder, more compassionate and understanding towards yourself, which can be no bad thing given that many of us are our own worst critics!
For some people, counselling can be life changing. For others, the outcomes are more modest and for some, there can be disappointment at what they achieve. However, research indicates that four out of five people feel better as a result of engaging in counselling and that the benefits tend to last after counselling ends.
Also, counselling can involve discovering what we can change while at the same time, becoming more accepting of the things we cannot change. And paradoxically this is change in itself!
Furthermore, coming for counselling does not mean that you will never feel bad again, or have difficulties in your life, in the future. But, hopefully, you will feel better able to cope.
At times counselling can be demanding, frustrating and emotional, and there may be a real reluctance to attend or even continue. It may feel like hard work and at the beginning, you may feel quite drained at the end of your sessions. You motivation may come and go, and being realistic, your motivation levels may not be the same throughout the time you come for counselling.
There may be times when you just cannot be bothered attending or are worried that you can’t think of anything to talk about. However, persevering can be very worthwhile, in the long term.
It’s a good idea to make a firm commitment to attending regularly and keeping absences to a minimum, as too many gaps may slow down the progress of our counselling work. In coming to counselling, you are making an important investment of time, money and effort in you and your well-being. What could be more important than this?
You really must want to come for counselling. It rarely works if someone “sends” you or if you attend in order to please someone else.
My job is to provide you with the insight, tools and resources, to find your own answers to your difficulties. But I won’t tell you what to do. Counselling is a joint venture between you and me. While I can guide you and make suggestions, at the end of the day, it is only you who can make the necessary changes.
Research into what makes counselling effective shows that up to 30% is down to the therapeutic relationship between the client and counsellor. Therefore, it is really important that you and I pay attention to our relationship. Realistically, as in any other relationships, we may have our ups and downs. Paying attention allows us to repair any possible difficulties.
Also, what happens in the relationship between us may be a reflection of what has happened, or is happening currently, in the other relationships in your life. If we can work at having a good therapeutic relationship, this may help you to solve relationship difficulties you may be having, or to relate to others in more satisfying ways.
Clients often tell me that, as a result of counselling, they feel empowered to open up to friends and relatives, and communicate more freely.
This tip is especially important if you have been coming to counselling for some time. You are in charge of when to stop coming to counselling. Nevertheless, I am willing to help you decide whether or not the time has come for you to stop.
You may decide that you have achieved what you came for, that you have gone as far as you can for now or you may want to take a break. Regardless of the reason, it can be important to give yourself the opportunity to take stock with me, at the end of your counselling. We can review how you have benefitted, explore any disappointments, look at what you still might want to work on, and perhaps how to prevent relapses.
Apart from this, if we have been working together for some time, a strong bond may have developed between us. And, as with other relationships, ending a counselling relationship may evoke feelings of loss in you. It may also remind you of previous losses in your life. You may be tempted not to attend the final session if saying goodbye is hard for you.
Paying attention to the ending allows me to support you and to help you manage any difficult emotions.
I hope that you have found these tips helpful and that they will enable you to make the most of your counselling or therapy.
Interested in Counselling? Call me now on 07970 860 711 to:
- book an appointment
- ask questions
- or schedule a free 15 minute telephone consultation.