Written By: Amy Gray, MS, LPC
So, you have made the choice to participate in counseling. That’s so great, and I’m glad that you’ve begun to invest in your personal growth and wellbeing! You might be wondering, “Now that I’m in counseling, how can I get the most out of my experience?” How can you get the most “bang for your buck” so to speak? If this is what you’re thinking, here are some points to consider that can help you get the most out of your counseling experience:
- Find a counselor that you work well with. Ask about your counselor’s credentials and licensure, familiarize yourself with options for counselors near you (or those available online), understand your counselor’s specialty areas and the concerns that your counselor works well with, and consider reading the blog I wrote titled “6 Things to Help you find the Counselor that is right for you.” (https://wibehavioralhealth.com/6-things-to-help-you-find-the-counselor-that-is-right-for-you/)
- Ask for, and understand, your treatment plan and goals. It is best practice for you and your counselor to discuss your goals for treatment and any diagnoses you may have. Your treatment plan and goals are like your “road map” to where you want your growth to go. If you don’t have a road map, or you are unsure of the direction you’re going, you risk getting lost and potentially missing the areas you’d like to work on. (If you’re not sure of what your goals are before you meet your counselor, that’s ok! You and your counselor can collaborate on developing some goals to work on together)
Discussing your treatment goals is best done early on in your journey and as you and your counselor get to know each other. Then, as you work together, continue to check-in and discuss those goals. Your treatment plan is meant to be updated along your journey, and it’s meant to grow with you.
- Attend sessions regularly, especially as recommended by your counselor. Counselors should offer a recommendation for how often you both should meet to support your personal goals for treatment, and if they don’t it is okay to ask for a recommendation. I like to think of counseling as a workout for your mind and wellness, comparable to when you work out your muscles with physical activity. What happens when you don’t have a workout on regular basis? You have slow or stagnant progression on your heath goals. This concept applies to mental health and counseling as well. If you don’t participate on a regular basis, or as regularly recommended, you risk not seeing the improvement on your mental health goals.
- Be open and honest about your experience in counseling with your counselor. It is 100% okay to be assertive with your counselor, and to give constructive feedback on how you think your counseling experience is going. If your experience is going well, have a conversation with your counselor about what is helping you have a positive experience so that you can continue to build on the strengths. If your experience is not going well, let your counselor know so that you can discuss possible approaches to improving your experience and the benefits you get out of your counseling. This can lead to a helpful discussion and collaboration about your needs in order to feel safe, secure, and open in counseling and can help you to continue to move forward in your growth.
- Be open and willing to hear feedback from your counselor. As you and your counselor get more familiar with each other, your counselor may point out patterns or themes about you, your experience, or your environment that could lead you to feel vulnerable. Know that when they do this, it is to help you gain awareness and understanding about yourself and the world around you. If you are feeling vulnerable after your counselor gives you feedback, or at any point in your counseling experience, let them know. This can lead to a supportive discussion about how you’re hearing their feedback and can encourage open communication in your relationship with your counselor.
- Consent is important; talk about your hesitations with your counselor. Hopefully counseling challenges you to talk about the hard topics that might be emotionally charged for you and if you’re not ready to discuss these topics, that’s ok! Consent is very important, including when you’re in counseling. If you’re not ready to talk about a topic, or if you’d like to pause or stop a topic, let your counselor know and openly talk about your hesitations. It is ok to be hesitant, and often that is the perfect place to start a discussion. Talk about why you’re feeling hesitant and explore what your needs are to feel ready to proceed with discussion.
Consider these ideas when you are looking to get the most out of your mental health counseling experience. Just as any other work with a professional, you are consuming their services and that means you are welcome to advocate for yourself, give constructive feedback, and to practice assertive communication. With these points in mind, you can set yourself up for success in mental health counseling.