7 Things Counseling Should and Shouldn't Be

coun·sel·ing

/ˈkouns(ə)liNG/

noun

1. the provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties, especially by a professional.

We’ve all seen the word, or variations of the word within the mental health scene. We know someone who has been in counseling or maybe we’ve had first-hand experience with it. But I don’t think a lot of people know what should and shouldn’t happen within the counseling hour, and honestly, I don’t think that’s their fault. The nature of mental health client/counselor confidentiality and societies viewpoints on this field plays a big role in this “unknown world of the counseling hour”. But I am here to share 7 tips of what you “should” and “shouldn’t” expect when entering therapy with a new counselor.

1. You SHOULDN’T expect it to be like your typical medical physicians’ checkup.

It’s easy to associate mental health with your body and how to take care of your mental health with how you take care of your body. But it’s not quite the same. I mean there are some similarities; you make an appointment, drive to that appointment, enter the waiting room, fill out some paperwork, browse through a magazine and then someone calls your name (probably mispronouncing it) but that is where the similarities stop. 1) hopefully the physical décor within the office is slightly less sterile than your physician’s office and 2) that your counselor doesn’t say “okay everything looks good see you back next year” at the end of your appointment. Most people don’t go to their medical physician more than 5 times a year, but most people are seeing their therapist more than 20 times a year. If you enter counseling you are going to be expected to attend weekly, or bi weekly sessions for an estimated 3 months to a year or more.

2. You SHOULD be motivated and invested in your treatment.

One of the most important things you should expect is to be motivated and invested in your counseling process. There is a common myth out there that entering counseling makes one “too focused on themselves”. And it’s true, counseling does involve reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, choices, and relationships and increasing your self-awareness. But the point of all that increased awareness is to allow you to make more informed choices about what’s important to you, how you get your needs met in the world, and how you impact other people. While it does take a certain amount of self-reflection, it often results in you being more attuned to and present with other people in your life. Taking care of yourself actually frees you up to be a better friend, partner, parent, and colleague.

3. You SHOULD like and trust your counselor.

Sounds like a big ole “DUH”. But you will not believe the number of people I have met with that have described their past counselor as “totally opposite than me” or someone who “didn’t get me” or “had totally opposing beliefs as me”. Suggestion to the masses, do your research prior to entering counseling! If you are someone who often cusses and is abrasive, you might not want to pick the counselor who is highly professional and uses sophisticated language throughout their site. Pick someone who is more in line with your personality and wants for your future.

And even if you do your research beforehand and figure out you aren’t vibing after a few sessions, that’s okay! Let your counselor know this, and who knows there might be something that can be done to make you feel more comfortable or maybe there isn’t. But the good thing to note is that there are thousands of human helpers in your city and your counselor would be happy to provide you with a referral to a better fitting therapist.

4. You SHOULDN’T expect it to be easy.

Unfortunately, there is no “magic pill” and counselors don’t have wands that we wave around to solve your problems (because trust me, if I did, I would be waving it around like crazy and happily be out of a job). Counselors won’t tell you to go home and “rest, ice, compress and elevate” to heal your broken heart after a break up, or to assist in the grieving process after a loss of a loved one. They will tell you to keep coming back and that the counseling process will assist you in feeling more connected, more capable of dealing with the challenges of adulthood, and more empowered to make decisions and follow through on plans that reflect your renewed sense of self and purpose.

5. You SHOULD experience some feelings of discomfort.

As is the case with most things in life, there are both benefits and risks while participating in counseling. Counseling may improve your ability to relate with others, provide a clearer understanding of yourself, your values, and your goals, and it often helps relieve stress immediately. Along with these benefits, counseling will also involve discussing the unpleasant parts of your life, and you may experience uncomfortable feelings during these moments. But remember that using the awareness of one’s pain can aid the healing process and result in better relationships with yourself and others.

6. You SHOULDN’T expect your counselor to fix your problems.

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The goal of counseling is not for someone else to “fix” your problems. Counselors are here to help you to identify those concerns and to set new goals for yourself. In therapy you will solve problems by working collaboratively with your counselor to explore your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. In doing so, you can explore all your options and make a decision as to how to best achieve your goals. In the end, YOU know yourself the best, therefore YOU are the best one to “fix” your problems!

7. You SHOULD experience personal growth.

A lot of people enter counseling with the goals to “feel less” of something or “more of” something else, but the overall goal for everyone’s treatment should be personal growth. At the end of the day all we have control of is our own thoughts and actions. Therefore, more time needs to be spent on developing a sturdy ground for our internal and external selves to stand on. So, when shit does hit the fan and we are needing to “feel less of” this or “more of that” we are able to sort through our tool box and get our needs met with the assistance of a counselor, and eventually alone.

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Written by: Shannon Gonter, LPCC, NCC

I specialize in working with men and young adults. I am passionate about my career and want to work with you to create positive change. I also strive to create a counseling environment where men and young adults can relate, feel heard, and find new solutions to their negative patterns. Some issues that I most commonly work with are stress, relationship issues, difficulty saying “no” to others, difficulties recognizing emotions and emotionally connecting to others, anger, and intimacy issues, among others.