If you’ve ever been the least bit curious about counseling, this piece is for you. I aim to provide a general overview of the counseling process and ways that the reality of counseling is different from the myth of counseling.
If you are anything like me, you probably won’t go to the doctor unless you have reached the point where none of your home remedies work. Maybe the symptoms have lingered around long enough to where you are exhausted or just plain ready to get well. So what happens next? You schedule an appointment with your physician or make a visit to the neighboring emergency medical services center. See the doctor. Get a diagnosis and a prescription. Boom! As you head out the door on your way to wellness, the following words echo in your ear, “Be sure to follow-up in two-weeks or as needed.” You nod as an act of compliance and as you walk out of the door, a sigh of relief hits you. You went seeking answers… and…for the most part… you got them. In the medical model, and as described in the example above, the physician uses a problem-solving method to focus on whatever may be causing physical/biological distress, dysfunction, or defect in a person.
At this point, I know you are probably thinking, “How is this relevant to counseling?” You’re right to ask that question. As a licensed professional counselor, I always take care to explain how counseling works because I don’t feel good about assuming that most people know what counseling is really about. After all, on average, about 60% of people in the US with a mental illness actually go and seek treatment compared to 70% adults who seek medical treatment. Essentially, I see both medical and mental illnesses as being two prongs in the holistic approach to health however, I also understand that some individuals don’t think of mental health in that regard. So, as I am meeting with clients for their initial appointments, I always ask what they know about counseling and if they’ve ever experienced it before. That makes it a lot easier for me to talk about the counseling relationship and expectations. Let’s discuss a few things that make the counseling relationship unique.
There are some instances when I find that my clients have the same expectations of my services that they have of their family doctors. There is a lingering issue (i.e. broken relationship, unruly teenagers, substance dependence, etc.) that is in need of some resolve. Unfortunately, this “problem-solution” mindset does not translate over well to therapy/counseling. Mental health problems don’t manifest in the way that physiological problem do and therefore are complex and take more time to understand and properly diagnose. Some emotional and behavioral problems are neatly nestled in other problems which mean that we have to tease out one related issue before we can fully address another.
In other words, ONE visit won’t do. Yes, this means that if you are expecting for all of your problems to be resolved after meeting your therapist/counselor for one, two, or three sessions, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. A general rule of thumb for me is to assess for the continuation of the counseling relationship so that I am better able to understand problem dynamics and how they interfere with a person or family’s normal functioning. It is equally important for me to establish a relationship with you that will engender your trust and comfort with me. This may take some time depending on how comfortable you are with the counseling process and whether you are willing to invest your time and energy in the relationship.
The second thing that I think is important for you to know about the counseling relationship is that you, alongside with your therapist, will chart the course of your mental health wellness journey. In counseling, I like for my clients to share their preferences and goals for counseling. Together, we work towards tracking your progress and helping you be the best you that you can be. Your willingness to partake in the goal setting process is what makes it easy for you to stick with the process. Think of it as a counselor helping you to meet your own personal agenda. We are trained to help you address deep psychological pain and have knowledge of skills and techniques that are research proved to help you become the person you want to be. We can help you change behaviors and teach you healthy skills.
The third thing that I want you to know about the counseling relationship is that it will only work if you allow it to work. Your level of commitment towards the achievement of your counseling goals will determine your success and is the most important component of the counseling process. Remember, it is not ideal to be a time limit on your healing process or on the amount of time it will take for you to “get better.” Trust me. I understand that it’s our natural inclination as humans to gauge how long something will take. I understand that most of us are uncomfortable with the unknown. I get it. No, I am not asking for you to give 10 years of your life to counseling either. What I am saying is that if you want to achieve results, you are going to have to accept that counseling is most beneficial for those who really dive into the process. That means if your counselor assigns homework, do it. If you have an appointment, try your best to keep it. Counselors are facilitators and companions along the journey of change and can be really powerful allies in the process of change. How committed are you to the process of change?
The purpose of this article is to help those of you who are unfamiliar with the counseling process in gaining some insights into the process. As you reflect on the aforementioned pointers, ask yourself, “What have I heard about counseling?” “Is it consistent with what I now know to be true about the process? If you are contemplating counseling, I hope this article provided you with some insightful information regarding the process. If you have tried counseling before and was either disappointed or unsatisfied with the services provided, I hope there was something written in this article that will encourage you to try it again.
Cheers to a healthier, happier, you!