If you are going to see a counselor for the first time, it can be pretty intimidating. No matter what issue you are going to work on, the following tips will help you get the most out of counseling.
1. Drop your guard. We all have walls that we put up to protect ourselves. That wall is going to be one of the biggest obstacles to your growth. By dropping your guard, you commit to being honest and completely open. If you want to get your money’s worth, this is the #1 way to do it. It will be difficult, especially when you start approaching topics that cause some pain, shame, or negative emotions. Remind yourself that you’re in a safe place and that’s what you are here for. So drop your guard and be real.
2. Find the right match. Counselors are human, and they have personalities and therapeutic styles. To get the most out of your time, you must find the right match. That means you might have to hop around counselors for a little while, but it will be worth it. It’s better to shop around than meet the discouragement of delayed and negative progress due to a poor match. So take the time (and money) to find the right match.
3. Do your homework. If your counselor isn’t giving you any homework, ask for it. You will get more out of your sessions (and your money) if you do work outside of the counseling office. You’ll be surprised how much you learn about yourself through homework exercises. It’s also an effective way to drop that protective wall a little quicker.
4. Journal. Lots of people hate to journal, but if you want to accomplish a lot of personal growth, journaling is a fantastic tool. You can do it by hand, in a word document (password protect), or an online journal or blog (make it private). You’ll want to reflect on your experiences in counseling, what you talked about, what you’re learning about yourself, and how it’s changing your life right now. Journals are a way for you to get the most out of counseling as well as evaluate your progress.
5. Write a letter. If you are about to go to your first session, write a letter…to yourself. Write why you’re going to counseling, what your biggest obstacles have been, and what you want to get out of it. During that first meeting, when your counselor says, “So tell me a little bit about why you’re here,” your mind might go completely blank. That’s normal. If you have this letter, you can let your counselor know that your mind is going blank and you’re really nervous. Ask to read the letter out loud. Your counselor will likely be supportive and impressed with your thoughtful preparation.
6. Get a cheerleader. Ask someone important in your life to be your cheerleader or mentor. A cheerleader is someone who will continuously encourage you throughout the process. When you feel like giving up, your cheerleader is going to cheer you on so you keep working on it. This person needs to be someone you trust who is naturally positive and optimistic. It can be a friend, spouse, or family member. A cheerleader will give you the support you’re going to need to get you through the upcoming challenges of personal growth.
7. Trust enough to be honest. Dropping your guard and your protective wall is the first step to being honest and real. You’re going to need to trust your counselor, and if you’ve found the right match – this should be no problem. Your counselor is the one person in the world you don’t need to lie to. Your lies won’t impress them, and your truths won’t disappoint them. The beauty of the counselor-client relationship is that you are essentially completely uninvolved strangers. It seems odd, but you should interpret that relationship as one that you can trust. Everything you say is confidential (minus harming yourself and others) so that means you can admit all your flaws, and this person will still accept you. So go for it, admit to those things about yourself that are holding you back from living your life successfully.
8. Show up. This seems obvious, but we’re human – and sometimes our “lives” can interfere with our “lives.” Make counseling a priority and commit to it like you would a job. You’re working on the most important thing in your life – YOU.
9. Be willing to find your own answers. Your counselor is NOT going to give you the answers. Do NOT expect to receive advise or the solutions to all your problems. An effective counselor will equip you with the insight, tools, and resources to find your own answers. If your counselor is giving you all the answers, you are getting ripped off. You want to leave counseling with the skills to find your own answers, so in the future you will be less dependent on a counselor.
10. Never give up. If you feel like your counseling has not been helping you, don’t give up. Reflect on the above suggestions. Did you do them? Did you find the right match? Have you been open, honest, and real? If you feel like you’re reaching a plateau or it’s not working for you, have the courage to talk to your counselor about it. Maybe they’re experiencing the same thing. They can help you discover a solution to the problem. Maybe it means trying a different therapeutic technique or approach, or doing group therapy, or seeing a different counselor. Giving up will only prevent you from living the life you deserve. Never give up!