Client's Guide to Counseling
Choosing a therapist is one of the most important decisions you can make. You want to find someone who is caring, knowledgeable, and accessible. You also want to find someone willing to take the time to go over all of your options and treat you as a person, not just as a client. We know it can be stressful and confusing to start counseling. Figuring out how to make it work can feel hard...almost like a huge leap of faith. To help demystify the process we have put together a few basics about counseling that we hope you find valuable as you take the next few steps towards taking control of your life.
How Does Counseling Work?
In simplest terms, counseling is an interpersonal learning process in which through the relationship with a skilled professional you focus on and work through goals for self-improvement. The most important factors to successful counseling are:
1) having clearly defined goals for what you want to accomplish (overall and for each session)
2) a high level of motivation for things to change
3) a counselor that you are comfortable with who is also skilled enough to help you.
The maintenance of all three factors coupled with having regular meetings with a skilled professional will allow you to talk about the things happening in your life that are related to your goals. This will lead to experimentation in which you will find yourself moving away from old habits while being motivated to try new things that come up in each session. In this way counseling should progress pretty quickly bringing you closer to the life you have always wanted.
Setting clear goals is the first step in making counseling work. The number of goals varies for each person and may change from week to week based on what is happening in your life. Many times people come in unsure what their goals might be. This is normal and is usually worked through in a session or two. The following are common examples used when putting together counseling goals:
I want to learn how to...
I want to get better at...
I want to figure out how to...
I want to feel...
I want to be more...
I want to understand...
I want to improve...
The next factor to successful counseling is a high level of personal investment in the process. Back in the early days of psychotherapy, the belief was that the client just needed to show up and present the information to be examined then he counselor would lead the client to insights that would become a cure for their problems. Research now shows that while clinician skill is important client motivation is even more important. You have to want it to work!
You have to be an active and invested participant. Clients that get the most benefit from counseling will spend time during the week thinking about the previous session, trying things that came up during session, noticing old habits in different ways, planning for the next session, and telling their counselor what their preferences are. No level of counselor skill and experience can make up for lack of motivation.
How Do I Know Who is the Right Counselor for Me?
The final factor is finding a counselor that you are comfortable with who is also skilled enough to help you. There are lots of different types of counseling providers (mental health counselors, social worksers, marriage counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc) with lots of different degrees (Ph.D., Psy.D., MA, MSW, etc). Each of these clinicians will talk about their different approaches (cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, mindfulness, etc) and each help speople with different concerns (relationship problems, anxiety, depression, ADHD, alcohol, etc). It can seem very confusing!
In terms of skill, most licensed counselors are trained in basic techniques that help people irregardless of degree and clinical approach. So how do you choose? Look around, Psychology Today and Network Therapy can be very good starting points. Find a clinician that appeals to you and call or email them. In your first meeting ask yourself if you feel comfortable. Can you see yourself sharing with that person as you become more familiar and at ease with the process? It is okay to meet a few counselors before deciding on the best one for you. Counseling is a very personal process but if you find the right one for you, and you are ready - counseling can make a huge difference in your life.
80 Nashua Road Suite B2 Londonderry NH 03053