I have dealt with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. One of the best tools I have used for coping over the years has been counseling. If you think you could benefit from counseling (and I believe everyone can!), read on for my tips for getting the most out it!
13 Ways to Make the Most Out of Counseling
1 Find a Good Fit
Finding a counselor that you click with is the best piece of advice I can give you! You want to find a counselor you feel you can trust and open up to completely. Counseling can make you feel very vulnerable at times and you will get the most out of it if you feel connected to your counselor. Do some research ahead of time and find out what specialties your potential counselor has – are they in line with the kind of help you need?
2 Understand What You Are Getting
Counseling is a pretty generic term, and I use it interchangeably with the word therapy. There are many different types of therapy. The counseling center you attend or individual therapist you see should be able to provide you with information (in advance) about what kind of counseling they offer. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to to understand if that type of counseling will be best for you.
3 Commit To It
Make counseling a priority in your life. Know that you will require more than one session, and commit to following through. Keep your appointments, and reschedule immediately if something comes up. Know that the time you spend in counseling sessions is time well spent and treat it as if it is valuable.
4 Set Some Goals
What do you hope to get out of counseling? Think about this before your first session, but also check in with yourself regularly throughout your time in counseling. Share your goals with your counselor. Your goals might change as you learn more about yourself, and that’s okay!
5 Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
Don’t give up on counseling after one session! Counseling is an ongoing process, not an instant solution. Go into it knowing it takes time, and usually multiple appointments to see the growth in your problem area.
6 Choose a Good Time
When you make your counseling appointments, seriously consider the time of day. Counseling might affect you emotionally, so you may not want to have a session immediately before an important meeting at work for example. If you are drained by the end of the day and can’t focus late in the afternoon – morning appointments may be best for you. You want to be able to focus on counseling while you are there (be present and not worried about what is coming next), and if possible, to be able to process afterward. My sweet spot personally is an afternoon appointment close to my youngest’s nap time. If I’m lucky, this means the house is quiet when I get home and I have a few extra moments to reflect and re-group.
7 Get Ready to Talk
The biggest surprise about counseling for a lot of people (me included!) is how much you are expected to talk! Most counselors (in my experience) will guide you along and ask thoughtful questions. You need to talk about your feelings, experiences, history, hopes and fears in order to make progress in counseling. If this is difficult for you, don’t give up, it does get easier in time.
8 Do the Work
Counseling doesn’t stop after your session ends – in fact, that’s where the work really begins! You need to do the work outside of the counseling appointment. Find time to reflect on what was discussed during your sessions. Journaling is a great way to do this, but so is sitting quietly with your thoughts, taking a walk alone, or confiding in a trusted friend. You might also find it beneficial to read books on related topics to the issues you’re tackling in counseling, to try meditating, or to do other activities suggested by your counselor.
9 Cover the Costs
Finances can be a big deterrent to seeking counseling. The benefits can so greatly outweigh the costs so I encourage you to find a way to make it work. Your budget can be adjusted to make room for counseling costs (what expenses could you temporarily cut back on?). Many counselors offer a sliding scale for payments, or other payment plans. Your local church may offer free counseling. Your employer might offer a limited number of counseling sessions for free through an employee assistance program (talk to your human resources department). Friends and family may be willing to help you with the costs. Value your own well-being and explore your options.
10 Be Open Minded
Counseling is full of surprises. Let go of your expectations and be open minded. Be open minded when it comes to your counselor and their methods. But also be open minded about yourself, and what might come up during sessions. Don’t judge yourself, and don’t expect a particular outcome for your counseling sessions.
11 Take Good Care of Yourself
Therapy, or counseling, is a great form of self care. It can work wonders for your mental and emotional health. However, you need to take care of the rest of you as well, in order to reap the full benefits of counseling. Prioritize good sleep, healthy food, and exercise.
12 Take Notes
A lot can come up during a counseling session, and there may be important things you don’t want to forget! I find that if I don’t write something down very soon after a session, I’m likely to get distracted by life and forget it! You might even want to take a few notes during your counseling session, if that helps you to process things better.
13 Rinse and Repeat
Counseling doesn’t have to be a one time thing. Don’t be afraid, or ashamed, to use counseling again at different times in your life. We all need support, and that doesn’t change because of our age or stage in life. You may also seek counseling due to a major life change like divorce, loss of a family member, or other trauma. Counseling is a great resource and you should take advantage of it whenever it will benefit you.
Have you gone to counseling? Any tips you’d like to share?