How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

Capitalizing on the knowledge, skills, gifts and experience of your therapist just makes sense. Your counselor is a resource to take full advantage of. You get to co-create the counseling experience you want! So, how do you get the most out your therapy sessions?

In general, the more goal-oriented we are in our approach, the more effective counseling will be. We have to know what we are moving toward. Usually, the goals we work on in counseling aren’t about ultimate life outcomes, which can feel too big, too distant, too unknowable, and too unattainable. More often, the goals we work on are more immediate, practical, and incremental.

Here are some examples of common therapeutic goals:

  • Figuring out what I’m struggling with and why
  • Getting more aware and comfortable with my feelings and emotions
  • Effectively managing my feelings and emotions
  • Exploring my identity so I can figure out who I really am and what I’m wanting
  • Experiencing less anxiety or managing my anxiety more effectively
  • Doing things to elevate my mood
  • Discovering my values, expectations, and desires in life and relationship
  • Shifting negative or problematic behaviors
  • Changing my relationship dynamics
  • Healing from hurts and traumas
  • Figuring out my life trajectory – career, community, and family
  • Creating a better relationship with myself

Let’s talk about the time in-between counseling sessions. Depending on your clinician, you may be given “homework” to do in-between sessions. Sometimes this homework is something written. More often, homework is simply a thought experiment, or a skill to practice (like breathing or mindfulness), a new behavior to try, or a conversation to be had with someone you are in relationship with. If homework is part of your therapist’s framework or style, then your job would simply be to do your homework! If this is not how your counselor tends to work, you can take the lead in this by asking your counselor what you could be doing in-between sessions to keep working on what you are interacting within session. Brainstorm together ways to implement the awareness, insight, and personal growth happening in counseling.

Now, what about the counseling sessions themselves? How do I make the most out of those? What is my part to play? Your job, over time, is to get really good at being honest with yourself and your therapist. What is truly going on in your day to day living? What are you not talking about or saying? What are you wanting to be different? If you could leave this session with one thing, what would it be? Sometimes we hide in counseling; don’t fully show up. It’s not so much that we consciously or intentionally conceal things in therapy. It’s just what we all tend to do when we are feeling vulnerable. We all know how to hide from ourselves and others.

Your therapist will be good at helping you make the most out of your sessions by creating the safety you need, asking effective questions, making intuitive guesses, and providing helpful reflections. Again, your job is to become more and more transparent over time. Transparency is simply a way to speak our self-knowledge out loud so that our awareness has the power to create change. Transparency leads to aliveness in the counseling process!

~ Clinton Nunnally