Some hints and tips to make sure you make the most of your sessions
Don’t worry about time. The timing of the session is the counsellors’s responsibility. Just concentrate on what you want to talk about and let the counsellor end the session on time.
Make therapy part of your life. Therapy isn’t just about the 50 minutes you spend with the counsellor. It’s important that you take what you learn and use during the week. You might notice other things that you’d like to talk about in therapy.
Keep a diary. Some people find it useful to keep a diary, writing down things they notice during the week. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a simple notebook to jot down thoughts and feeling.
Start with administration. Deal with payment and scheduling at the start of the session. It can be uncomfortable after an emotional breakthrough to then start diary negotiations.
Then deal with the relationship. If there are any issues with your relationship with your counsellor, deal with them at the start of the session. This could be anything: you’re thinking of leaving; you were angry after the last session; you’re worried about what the counsellor thinks of you. The relationship with the counsellor is paramount and its important to deal with any concerns.
Getting unstuck. It’s common for clients to feel stuck and not know what to talk about. Ask yourself ‘what do I want?’ and ‘how do I feel?’ and you’ll find things to talk about.
I can’t ask that! You’re allowed to ask any question you want. It is the counsellor’s responsibility to explain and manage their own boundaries, so if you want to know why she said something, or a personal detail, go ahead and ask. You may not get an answer, but you’ll get a reason why not, and perhaps you’ll learn something about yourself in the process.
Check things out. How well are you working with your counsellor? Is therapy helping or hurting? Share your thinking with your counsellor, and he’ll share his thinking with you.
Try something different. Therapy can give you a safe space to try things out. So practice being assertive instead of passive. Try talking instead of listening. Feel your feelings instead of thinking about them.
Reach your own conclusions. People sometimes come to a counsellor looking to be told what to do. Therapy is about making your own decisions rather than have someone make decisions for you. It may feel disappointing at the time, but you’ll benefit in the long term.
Be curious. Ask yourself why you think/feel/act the way you do. ‘Why do I fight with my wife?’ ‘Why does the counsellor make me feel anxious?’
Say that again? If the counsellor says some jargon you don’t understand, then ask for a ‘plain English’ explanation. It is your therapy, after all.
Why did I think that? Therapy is one place where strange thoughts are encouraged. The stranger the better, in fact. So if you have a sudden flash of memory, talk about it. Say what you’re thinking about and perhaps you’ll learn something new.
Who is your counsellor? Think about your counsellor, not just as a real person, but how you imagine him to be. And how you imagine he feels about you. Talking about your relationship with your counsellor can give you insight into how your projections can influence how you relate to others.
Going deeper. If you find yourself running out of things to talk about, or having long, awkward, silences, then maybe there is a deeper issue you’re avoiding. Think about what you’re not talking about, and talk about it. Ask yourself ‘I wonder why I …’
Therapy is a process, not an event. A counsellor isn’t going to transform you, or give you a quick fix, or tell you what to do. And sometimes you have to stick with it when the going gets tough. Trust the process.