Have you had the following experience? You go to counseling, thinking you will get to feeling better. You get frustrated, because things don't change. So you try another counselor. And another. And then, you give up. And your conclusion: Counseling doesn't work. You're not alone in this. I've heard this from several clients, who have decided to give it one more try. And I'm here to tell you, it Can work. So how Do you get your goals met in counseling?
1 First things first. The shoe has to fit, sorta speak. For example, if you have a foot problem, you see a foot specialist, not an ear-, nose- and throat specialist, right? (I mean unless it's something like, your toe is stuck in your ear while doing a yoga pose? lol jk...hope I made you smile). What is true for medical issues, is also true for mental health issues. So, for example, if you have symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, you want to find a counselor who specializes in and has experience working with people experiencing this.
2 Are you feeling comfortable talking to your counselor? THIS, is probably the most important of all. Counselors are people like you and me (oh, wait, I am a counselor lol...well, and a human being :). As you know from experience, you don't feel comfortable opening up about your life to just anybody. There has to be a "connection." A kind of sense that "yeah, I can talk to this person." Not that counseling is like a full on friendship, but it is a professional partnership between a client and a counselor. If it doesn't "feel" that way to you, chances are slim that you will be able to really address what's going on and...meet your goals. So, find someone you feel you can really talk with, about anything and everything.
3 Is the counselor using evidence based - researched and proven methods? This is important because there are lots of un-researched approaches used by counselors, that may not be the best choice for your situation. It is similar to the foot in ear scenario explained above. You need help that works for the problem you are addressing. How would you know what practices a counselor is using, you ask? You can find this information by checking out websites like National Alliance on Mental Illness -NAMI. There, under the different diagnoses, you can see the types of treatments that have been proven to be the most effective. Then, when looking for a counselor, or if you already have one, you can ask them what type of treatment model they use in counseling with you.
4 You will NEED to be HIGHLY involved. This is work. More accurately, this is TEAMWORK. And what I mean by “team” is you and your counselor, but it can also include others, like your doctor or support from family and friends. Your part in this is to actively participate in putting together a plan of action, called a treatment plan. You and your counselor identify what “the problem” is (and no, it’s not “you”) and define some goals towards resolving this problem. Your counselor will then talk with you about the specific how to’s (called objectives and interventions) and write those into your plan, as well. As you start working together, you will need to do “homework,” like reading information about the topic at hand (this is called psycho-education), journaling or tracking your moods and thoughts. There will be things you will need to do outside of the session to incorporate what you learned into your life. For example, you might learn about the connection between mental and physical health, and may need to incorporate more ZZ’s and more exercise into your life. Yep, we counselors can’t wave a magic want and just make it all go away. A large part to achieving your goals in counseling really depends on how much you put into this.
6 Understanding that it will take TIME. Usually, the person has developed unhelpful thoughts that are underlying the problem over many years. These unhelpful thoughts are connected to the negative emotions the person is experiencing and can be connected to unhelpful behaviors, as well. The longer these unhelpful thoughts continue, the stronger they become. Therefore, it will take some time to break that cycle of thinking and to establish more positive ways of being. This requires you to be patient with yourself. When things are not going so well, be kind to yourself, like you would be kind to your best friend. It is also important for you to recognize and celebrate each small achievement you make. This will help make the new positive thoughts stronger and help you achieve your goals faster.
You're not alone. ~ Let's Talk! ~ Petra
If you are experiencing a mental health emergency please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at
1-800-273-8255 Or go to your nearest emergency room.
I am a Nationally Certified- and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the State of Idaho. With over eight years of experience, I specialize in counseling and consulting with adults of all ages, facing anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, grief & loss, life stage issues, stress and more.