You’ve taken the step to schedule your first appointment with a psychotherapist or a counselor. You are nervous, though, worried you might not know what to do when you get there.
You have all these thoughts running through your head like, “Will they judge me? Will it really help?” You consider cancelling the appointment, but you’re in a crisis or trying to prevent a crisis. In the end you decide you are going.
Once you find a counselor who is a good match, you will want to get the most out of your investment in time and money. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of the counseling experience.
Tip #1: Be Honest
You have nothing to lose by being honest. The counselor works under strict client-therapist confidentiality laws to keep everything you discuss private (unless you are a danger to yourself or others).
Tell them about yourself and be as open as you can about your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Most therapists aren’t in this business to judge you, but to lend a hand by guiding and coaching you to greater clarity and mastery of your goals.
Tip #2: Identify Counseling Goals
Take time to figure out what goals you’d like to work on in counseling. While counselors’ specialties vary, your goals can include the following areas: emotional, relational, behavioral, health, career or work.
Identifying your goals will help you focus what you most want to talk about in your sessions. It will also help you talk about progress toward your goals.
Tip #3: Keep a Counseling Journal
Often counselors ask questions you might not have the answer to. You want to reflect on it later, though.
Decide if you want to use a password-protected file on your phone or a paper journal to record your counseling goals, reflections, attempts and progress. It’s as important to focus on problems as it is to progress. Keeping a personal record of your emotional and relational goals and reflections will help increase your focus, motivation, and self-awareness.
If you use Talkspace, you can use the online platform as a substitute for a journal. Depending on your preferences, this approach might work better.
Tip #4: Prepare for Sessions
Get your journal or notebook out before your session and reflect on what you’ve been working on, thinking about or stuck on. If you use Talkspace, you can type the notes in the chat with your therapist.
Write down any questions you have or any topics you want to focus on in the next session. That way you can start the session focused on what’s most important to you. Thinking space can be challenging to carve out these days with the demands of everyday life, but it will help you make the most of counseling.
Tip #5: Speak Up Before Ending Counseling
Speak up if you are thinking about ending counseling, whether it’s due to making the progress you wanted, financial challenges or personality clashes. Let the counselor know you are done for now so you can have time to summarize and celebrate all your hard work.
If the counseling isn’t going well and you feel stuck, speak up about this, too. Even if something in therapy confused or hurt you, it’s good to practice being open about it. If the counselor isn’t a good match, this gives him or her an opportunity to offer other options.
Tip #6: A Therapist Will Not “Fix” You or Tell You What To Do
In a crisis we often want relief as soon as possible and feel like we’ve run out of options. When a person feels really uncomfortable, they might put pressure on a professional to “fix” them.
Pressuring the therapist to fix you will leave you feeling more hopeless and frustrated. And getting the wrong kind of advice can rob you of the opportunity to find your own solutions and develop more confidence when faced with challenges.
Instead of pressuring the therapist, own your problem and your progress. Collaborate with the helping professional rather than expecting him or her to solve everything.
Tip #7: Keep Counseling at Least Somewhat Private
Establish boundaries around your therapy sessions. Wait to share what you are working on in counseling until you are starting to make progress. Resist the urge to use the therapist’s expert opinion to speak up to loved ones.
Instead work on defining yourself to your loved ones, not leaning on your therapist to speak for you. It’s very different to say what you are going to do vs. what your therapist thinks you should do. Letting the expert prop you up blocks confidence, empowerment and intimacy from growing.
Tip #8: Try Mental Health Prevention
Lastly, you don’t have to wait until there is a crisis to come to counseling. While a crisis is motivating and a time where patterns are more easily observed, you can also attend counseling before your relationships or health is at a crisis point.
Many people come to counseling to receive coaching on personal or relationship growth goals. Others continue counseling on an as-needed basis to help maintain changes they’ve made.
Counselors don’t only offer diagnoses and treatment plans. Counseling is a place to gather clarity, stay motivated and receive both encouragement and a new perspective.
Turn your challenges into opportunities for growth and intimacy by scheduling an appointment with Marci online via Talkspace (make sure you live in the same state as her, even for online appointments).