What Do People Expect from Counseling?
By: Beth McHugh 2008
When problems arise in life and a person is clearly suffering from the effects of a crisis or a long-term problem, it is often common to hear the phrase: “You should go and have some counseling.” But what exactly happens during the counseling process? How does a person “get better”? And what are the respective roles and responsibility of the therapist and client?
Having therapy is different to anything you will have experienced before. It is not the same as talking over your problems with your Mom or your best friend. Both of these resources are excellent first ports of call when things are not rosy, and for the most part, people do get thorough their life problems with the help of their own personal resources, plus those of family and friends.
However, we don’t always have family and friends to hand for a variety of reasons. And even when we do, there are many problems that are too hard to understand by a person who has never experienced emotional hardship.
This is where finding a good therapist can be of great assistance. Because they are not your friend or family member, therapists are better able to see the situation without having a personal agenda that might influence therapy. Family and friends, however well meaning, can at times have vested interests in the way you deal with a given situation.
Therapists also have training in a variety of techniques which can be used at different stages of recovery. Sometimes therapy can consist of just listening to a highly distressed person as they tell their story, often for the first time. At later stages, therapy may be more proactive.
But there is one factor that distinguishes therapy from any other form of medical treatment: it is the client who does the work. It’s interesting to ask people what they expect will happen when they attend counseling. Most reply: “Well, I’m got this problem and the therapist is going to fix it.”
Wrong! Having counseling is not like going to the doctors and being handed a prescription and – voila! – problem solved. Therapy is also not like going in to have that grumbling gall bladder removed. The latter literally involves you just lying there while the medical staff does all the hard work.
Therapy is an active process and most of the activity needs to be undertaken by the client. It is a misconception that you go to a therapist and they will simply tell you what to do. Sometimes the therapist can see what it is that needs to change, but the client also needs to be ready to take the necessary steps in order to effect that change.
Many times the therapist does not have a ready answer; the answer becomes apparent as therapy progresses and more issues come to the fore. In some scenarios, there are no solutions, only a movement towards acceptance is possible. However, a good therapist can assist the client to see possibilities and opportunities for change.
Yet a therapist is only as good as the client allows them to be. If a client will not work, avoids issues, and does not do the required homework, progress will stall. Having counseling is much like life: you get out of it what you put into it.
I can also tell when my clients are trying hard to recover versus those that passively wait for change to happen. The former group make relatively speedy progress, spend time thinking and writing about their situation and come up with enlightening insights that allow them to free themselves from the problems that were formerly weighing them down. The latter become stuck within their problem and are either not ready to change or are unwilling to change on a deep level.
Sometimes it takes a while for people to realize that therapy really is hard work. But it is permanently rewarding and a great investment in the future – your future!