How To Go to Counselling Part III: Getting the most out of therapy
This is the third and final post in a series about how to go to counselling. In part I, I talked about ways to prepare for counselling. In part II, I went over a few ways to tell if your counselling is a good fit for you. In the conclusion to the series, I’m going to suggest some ways you can get the most out of counselling.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about counselling. Sometimes folks come in thinking counselling is like going to the doctor: you come in and your counsellor will do counselling to you, which will solve the problem and you’ll walk out feeling better. One of the major influences at Peak Resilience is that our work is framed within intersectional feminism. This means your counsellor sees counselling as something they do with you, and they see you as an active participant in the room and the expert of your own experience. You have more impact than you might think, and what you bring to the room is really important! With this in mind, here are some ideas around how to get the most out of counselling.
Vulnerability and discomfort
Without a doubt, counselling involves vulnerability and getting uncomfortable. It’s all about working in a space that’s safe...but not too safe. It goes without saying that if it feels downright unsafe, counselling won’t be helpful and might even be harmful or retraumatizing. At the same time, being too safe - like avoiding the topics or experiences that bring up any discomfort whatsoever - is also not helpful in the long run.
It’s in this middle ground, where you feel safe enough but also challenged, that change can really happen. This is where you might discover information about yourself, or start building a new skill. And it’s important to remember that even positive change can feel pretty uncomfortable.
Do you notice yourself avoiding discomfort in session? Great! This is a really helpful thing to bring up with your therapist so you can explore what’s going on together.
Life outside of session
If you’re seeing your therapist once a week, that’s only 50 minutes out of 10 080 that week - only a drop in the bucket! What you practice and think about in your day-to-day life matters a lot.
I recently heard an analogy that really stuck with me: you can think of a counselling session kind of like basketball practice. In session, you get to practice skills in a more structured way. Maybe for you this might mean feeling some feelings or practicing vulnerability with someone who feels safe. In the end though, the real goal is to take those skills out into the game, which is ‘real’ life.
I’m not suggesting you go from 0 to 100% right away and start feeling all the feelings - that would be overwhelming! What’s important is thinking about how you bring the work you’re doing in counselling out into the world with you. What would it be like to do something 1% differently? What might it be like to practice a new skill for a few minutes?
This is another good thing to bring up with your therapist. How does your work translate and integrate into day-to-day life? Are there things they think it might be helpful to contemplate or practice between sessions?
You might have noticed by now that I think asking your therapist questions is pretty important. These kinds of questions - especially the ones about what’s happening while you’re in the room together - can be incredibly helpful to the work you’re doing in therapy. Questions are also a good way for you to be engaged with your therapy, and doing the therapy you want to be doing.
Often the unspoken content around questions is really important too. Are you unsure whether you’re doing therapy ‘right’? Are you worried about what your counsellor is thinking about you? These are probably questions that come up in other areas of your life too. Bringing them up in counselling can give you a rare opportunity to talk about these things and work through them explicitly, rather than sitting with them alone.
This has been a series about ‘how to’ go to counselling. My hope with this series has been to pull back the curtain and demystify counselling a little bit. That being said, these are just some ideas, and counselling can really be as unique as you are.
Amanda Hamm is a registered clinical counsellor who works towards making counselling more relatable, approachable, and just a tiny bit more human.