Getting the Best Out of Your Counselling

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How you engage with counselling is a major factor in how effective it can be for you and how much you get out of it. Whilst you cannot control how engaged your therapist is or whether you have a natural rapport; you can be aware of and influence how much you are willing to put into it yourself. Undoubtedly any good therapist will do their best to help bring you relief from whatever ails you, but unlike many other services we access, without a collaborative effort on both sides, therapy cannot be very effective. The responsibility of counselling being therapeutic lies with your therapist, but if you are unaware of how counselling works, it is helpful to know that a therapist cannot just tell you how to feel better, you need to be prepared to work with them.

This brings the question, if your engagement in therapy is so important then what can you do to get the best out of it?

We are often by nature fearful of dealing with the things that trouble us the most, especially so when we are stressed, struggling or in the midst of despair. We naturally fear judgement, perhaps worrying someone might recoil at our deepest, darkest fears or tell us we are beyond help. For that reason we might avoid broaching the things we need to most. handshake on blue sky and sunlightThe first and for some the biggest barrier is in accepting help in the first place. In a culture which highly prizes the power of the individual, it takes real courage and sometimes a major shift in perspective to accept that you need outside support. If you are able to let go of the need to cope alone and seek out some support, often the second hurdle is in learning to engage with and trust the process of something which can seem frighteningly unfamiliar.

This second stage is a natural part of counselling and you certainly shouldn’t feel rushed to do or say anything in particular, it is your space to use as you wish, There are no concrete rules as to how you use your counselling but it may help you to know some of the potential pitfalls or potential ways to work in therapy:

Go at your pace. If you don’t feel able to share the depths of what has really brought you to counselling at first, that’s completely normal, it can take time to establish a sense of trust.  Alternatively, you may feel you want to instantly unburden yourself of your feelings or just want to share that you feel lost. Remember this is your time and you are in control, you should go at your pace, not your therapists.

Engagement is not about working through things at a furious pace, it’s about being fully present in what is happening for you, open and honest. Try not to get too caught up in trying to be ‘productive’  but do make a commitment to your counselling. It’s important to attend regularly, on time and reflect in between sessions. In counselling it’s also useful to remember that whatever you choose to share in the room is what you are both working with.

Authenticity is important in the counselling relationship. It is difficult to forge a genuine trusting relationship with someone without a sense of it being authentic on some level. You can share whatever you wish in counselling and there may be times you don’t feel comfortable sharing how you think or feel about something. If that’s how you feel then it’s good to share this instead of pushing yourself too far too soon or ignoring it altogether. Authenticity is about being honest with yourself and whats going on for you in the moment not about saying what you feel you have to.

Giving feedback: Whilst there is sadly a lot of mystique around psychotherapy & counselling there does not need to be. You should feel free and encouraged to give feedback on how you experience counselling. If you aren’t happy with where counselling is taking you or you feel upset by something, it will help to share this rather than keep it to yourself. Good counselling should encourage you to share honest feelings rather than keep them to yourself out of fear of judgement or offence. Therapists can often pick up on feelings but we cannot read minds. By telling your counsellor how you experience therapy you are enabling your therapist to better understand your experience, improving the relationship and enabling them to improve the service for you.

Don’t expect simple easy answers : Understandably, it can feel at times as though you expect your therapist to have all the answers for you. However, you are working together in this and the open dialogue in the relationship often brings a solution from within. Your counsellor will help guide you, pick up on feelings or patterns you may not have realised, and may even make suggestions; but only you can take responsibility for the changes you need to make to move forwards. Change is often difficult, especially so if we have become used to coping behaviours over many years. Understanding you may have some resistance to change will empower you to do something about it.

Recognise your therapist is human too: If you are seeking support and feel vulnerable, your therapist can seem quite powerful and this might potentially be intimidating. However, I can assure you that like all other therapists, I am very much human too. I have struggled with stress, anxiety and feelings I didn’t understand before and know how it feels to be the one seeking support.

Whilst most therapists strive to provide the best care they can, like anyone else we are not perfect. If you feel your counsellor has got something wrong for you; whether it’s the words used, tone of voice or even an expression used, it is really important you feel able to share this, in a similar way to giving feedback on your progress. A good therapist will work with you to understand what took place whilst also being able to accept they are not faultless. Often things can move forwards from a misunderstanding or uncomfortable feeling as the honesty involved in this builds trust.

Key points to remember in getting the best from your therapy are :

  • Therapists don’t have all the answers but will help you find the right ones for you
  • Be as open as you feel able
  • Say how you really feel
  • Give honest feedback
  • Go at your own pace

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