Understand how the counseling process works. Imagine hopping on a bus for a sightseeing tour. A really good sightseeing tour usually has a bus driver and a tour guide. The bus driver determines the route and then drives the group to see interesting and important things. The tour guide explains what people are seeing and the significance of those things. In the counseling process, the client (you) is like the bus driver, and the counselor is like the tour guide. It’s your job to figure out where you want to go, and it’s the counselor’s job to talk about the things they are seeing and help you make sense of the things you are talking about.
Remember it’s not the counselor’s job to tell you what to do. It’s a common myth that counselors give advice or tell you how to fix your problems. A really good counselor, though, will help you look at all of your options and then help you figure out what option works best for you.
Work with your counselor to set goals. Developing goals is a collaborative and ongoing process between the client (you) and the counselor. Having goals will allow you to track progress. Before you meet with your counselor, ask yourself things like, “What do I want out of counseling? What in my life am I hoping will change?”
Engage your counselor in an honest and authentic way. Without honest communication and an authentic connection, it is very difficult for your work with a counselor to be successful. Asking your counselor questions about the process and getting to know your counselor will make talking about difficult issues seem more manageable.
Recognize that sometimes the counseling process is uncomfortable. Trying something new or solving really complex problems is difficult. Just like when you feel sore after you work out for the first time in a long time, you are likely to feel some discomfort when you are working through emotional or life issues. If you can learn to lean into the discomfort and work through it, you will be surprised at the progress you can make.
Your relationship with your counselor is unlike any other relationship you probably have. With friends, it is normal for there to be give and take – you talk or share, then the other person talks or shares. Counseling is different. It’s your counselor’s job to set boundaries and challenge you in order help you reach your goals.
Focus on you. It can feel good to vent about your relationships, and honestly, that is an important part of counseling. However, spending ALL of your sessions venting and thinking about how you wish other people would change is unproductive. Intentionally focusing on your experiences and the things you can control will help you figure out different ways to respond or look at certain situations.
Continue working on things between sessions. You will probably only meet with your counselor for 50 minutes every 1 to 2 weeks. To really get the most out of seeing a counselor, it is important think about the things you talked about while you are not in a session. Use this time to really dissect the insights you gained or practice the techniques that your counselor taught you.
Realize that counseling is not about “fixing” you. You are not a broken item that needs to be fixed. You are a normal person who is dealing with really difficult circumstances. Your counselor will work hard to create a non-judgmental environment that will allow you to figure some things out and make things make sense.
Be patient and acknowledge progress. Counseling can be a slow process. Your problems more than likely did not develop overnight, so it is probably unrealistic that the issues will be resolved overnight. In fact, for most people, progress does not happen in a straight line or very quickly. Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward. Learn to see the one step forward as progress.