Knowing what counseling is can help you better prepare to make the most of your counseling sessions for faster results and positive, permanent change. Important aspects of counseling are explained in these three sections:
What counseling IS
Misconceptions about counseling
Benefits of counseling
Counseling is a collaboration between the counselor and the client.
Length of treatment greatly depends on the client’s motivation, maturity level, and openness. No matter how effective the counselor is at guiding a client through treatment, it is important to note that the client is being guided, not forced to heal themselves.
Role of the Counselor
The role of the counselor is to guide the client to develop healthy coping skills and patterns of communication to improve their own lives and interactions with others. The counselor and client identify goals and solutions to the client’s issues. In individual counseling as well as couples counseling and/or family counseling, the counselor serves as a neutral party. Their only concern is helping the client improve their life. For couples and families, the counselor helps the clients improve as individuals and restore and develop the relationship.
Goals are an important part of treatment. The counselor will ask the client what their goals are to establish a treatment plan, to know what the client considers success for their treatment, and to know what the client is ready to achieve.
Goals are important to the client because “intentionality” (acting with intent or purpose to achieve a goal) helps the client build awareness of choices that is essential for progress.
The counselor provides guidance in the form of advice the client is intended to incorporate into their lives.
Role of the Client
The role of the client is first to communicate needs and issues with honesty to their counselor. In the same way a client would disclose symptoms to a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment, it is essential that the client is open and truthful. An experienced counselor may intuit undisclosed issues, but if the client is not open with their needs, it could be considered an indication the client is not ready to confront those issues.
We often tell our clients that the real therapy is what happens BETWEEN sessions. From the end of a session to the beginning of the next session, the client should follow advice from their treatment. This is accomplished when the client continually develops awareness of opportunities to incorporate advice from treatment, following that advice, and remaining aware of their choices.
As mentioned in the role of the counselor, goals help the client act with intent. This builds “intentionality” which enhances the development of awareness. This new awareness of opportunities for change and awareness of emotions and actions help the client’s progress.
The client progresses through treatment by discussing these life changes and incorporating new advice from additional sessions. In the same way a bodybuilder develops muscles by repetitive training, a client works their “mental muscles” and develops maturity through consistency and intentionality.
The steps, including the roles of the counselor and client, ideally follow a process like this:
- Session 1: Client discusses needs and goals with counselor
- Session 1: Counselor develops treatment plan and sets a short-term goal for the next session
- (CrossRoads clients only—Between sessions 1 and 2: Take our FREE assessments for faster results)
- Between sessions: Client develops choice awareness & opportunities for growth
- Between sessions: Client acts with intent, “building intentionality” and incorporating new advice
- Between sessions: Client develops relationships and furthers their emotional growth
- Session 2: Client discusses growth and observations at next session
- Session 2: Counselor updates treatment with new advice; client incorporates new information and further enhances life
Although this lists only sessions 1 and 2, this shows the client’s work between sessions and the roles of the counselor and client. As the client continues treatment, they will continue to develop until they no longer need guidance to achieve their goals.
These misunderstandings and misconceptions about counseling can hinder the effectiveness of counseling.
“Why not ask a friend for help?”
The therapeutic relationship between a counselor and client differs from confiding in a friend because a professional counselor has been trained to help the client improve their mental health, as opposed to the inexperience of a well-meaning layperson. Professional counselors earn graduate degrees (e.g. Master’s Degrees, Doctorate Degrees) in this field and have enhanced their skills far beyond “common sense”.
Confidentiality, neutrality, and freedom from judgment also help the client gain the necessary comfort level for openness and progress. This “friendly, but not familiar” relationship is why counselors are wary of a “conflict of interest” which could affect their neutrality.
It’s important to maintain friendships, and keeping proper boundaries with your friends make that possible. Venting or relying on your friends, or placing the responsibility of your mental health on them can strain the relationship.
“Going to counseling means I’m crazy or my relationship is about to end”
Counseling should not be reserved as a measure of last resort. Counseling can help an individual work through small issues to prevent larger problems, and couples can find new ways to work together instead of letting resentments build which could tear their relationship apart. Although our experienced counselors have helped many couples restore relationships they feared were far past the point of no return, there is no reason to put off counseling when the damage could be repaired more easily.
How will your issues get better if you avoid seeking help? If you could have fixed the issue yourself, you would have done so already.
“I feel like I’m going to the Principal’s office”
You’re not “in trouble” for going to counseling. This assumes the counselor is there to judge you or punish you, when this is clearly not the case. The counselor is there to help you work through issues so that your life will be improved. If someone in your life has suggested counseling, they aren’t trying to punish you—they’re showing they care about you.
Individuals, couples, and families can experience positive, permanent change in many ways. Some of the most requested areas of improvement include:
- Anger management
- Ending co-dependency
- Control of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety
- Healthy boundaries
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved conflict resolution skills, communication skills, and interpersonal skills
- Healthy coping skills
- Improved decision-making skills
- Positive reaction to stress
Mastery of your feelings and decisions can empower you to help you gain and maintain control of your life. Even if an individual is part of a couple or family that is seeking counseling, an individual client can work on issues in individual sessions. This can help the client improve communication skills and change the way they react in interpersonal conflict.
In addition to benefits of individual counseling, premarital couples can learn healthy patterns of communication which can help them prevent issues that would otherwise have become problems in a marriage.
Premarital counseling is usually short-term, and serves as a way to develop the foundation of a strong marriage. In premarital counseling, a couple can discuss expectations to avoid a common issue of assuming the other person is “on the same page” and is in agreement in terms of goals and values.
Understanding and establishing healthy boundaries can help a couple build a relationship based on mutual respect and responsibility for a more stable, harmonious union.
Couples (whether they’re married or need help to improve their relationship before marriage can be considered) can benefit as individuals and as members of a couple. Each person can gain the benefits of individual counseling and improve their relationship as they improve themselves. Resentments from unresolved conflict can often build, creating additional problems. Forgiveness and changed patterns of communication are important for couples counseling.
In addition to the benefits of individual counseling, a marriage can be greatly improved by working together through self-improvement. A spouse might need individual counseling as part of their marriage counseling. Working on self-esteem, co-dependency, forgiveness, anger management, or other issues as an individual can also help progress in marriage counseling. As mentioned with couples counseling, healing resentments and developing more healthy patterns of communicating are important parts of marriage counseling.
Additional family members introduce new variables for conflict. Family counseling can help ease the transition of a new blended family (a couple plus children from previous relationships), separation, or divorce. The neutrality of a counselor is especially helpful when communications are strained between more than two people.
For experienced Christian Counseling, contact CrossRoads at 317-842-8881.