Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin individual counseling. Remember, counseling is a process and approaching that process with intention can help you get the most out of it.
1. Have a specific problem/goal in mind
Some problems might feel really big, so it’s important to focus on the specifics so you can work towards meaningful change.
2. Show up
Try to give yourself some time before your appointment so you can show up on time and be present during your session. It’s important for your counselor to get to know the real you.
3. Counseling is collaboration, not advice
Counseling is about giving you support to help you reach your own conclusions and act for yourself. Counselors can offer encouragement, but they cannot make your choices or changes for you. Learning to internalize this encouragement will benefit you in the long run, although it can be challenging at the time.
4. Be curious
Counseling is about understanding yourself and how you relate to the world around you. Ask yourself, which of your life experiences might be connected to how you currently behave, think, and feel.
5. Express feelings about counseling during counseling
How you feel about your counselor and the counseling process is important. Sharing these feelings give you the opportunity to practice healthy coping skills and relationship-building in a safe environment.
6. Counseling can be hard work
Just like a good workout, you may leave counseling feeling emotionally worn out. It’s normal for counseling to be tough at times, so make sure to practice self-care in between sessions. Talk to your counselor if counseling ever feels overwhelming.
7. Be ready to change
In counseling, change can mean different things for different people. You get to decide what that change looks like. Your counselor can be a guide, but ultimately you have to make the changes for yourself. Change can be challenging, and it’s up to you to work towards the changes that will positively impact your life.
8. Do your work between sessions
Counseling doesn’t stop when you leave your counselor’s office. Think about it, write about it, talk about it; find what works for you to make counseling a part of your life. Counseling has the biggest effect on your life when you practice what you’ve learned out into the world.
9. Use challenges in life as opportunities for growth
Counseling can help you address certain goals but know that challenges in life are inevitable. Use what you are learning in counseling to meet challenges in new and different ways.
10. Get support from others
Reaching out and getting connected to others is an important part of life. Change doesn’t happen in isolation and support can’t come from your counselor alone.
11. It’s okay to have boundaries in counseling
You have the right to set boundaries in all areas of your life, including who knows about your counseling. You can choose how much you share and with whom you share.
12. Be patient with the process
Counseling is a journey. Despite the inevitable challenges that come with looking inward and making changes, counseling can be a rewarding and transformative process.
Adapted from: Howes, R. (2010, May 26). 21 Tips for Clients in Psychotherapy. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/201005/21-tips-clients-in-psychotherapy and Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Therapists Spill: 10 Tips for Making the Most of Therapy. Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/lib/therapists-spill-10-tips-for-making-the-most-of-therapy/