Friday, March 8, 2013

How to Go to Counseling, for Dummies

I was very na├»ve when I first started to go to counseling.  Nobody tells you how to do it, and I was too ashamed to ask.

I wish someone handed me the book, “How to go to Counseling for Dummies”.  But I am pretty sure it doesn’t exist.

I didn’t know how the system worked or what you had to do.  It was very much a trial and error experience in the beginning.

My first few times, I was very easily persuaded, like a sponge soaking it all in.  I was only certain of one thing; I was the one with the major problems.  Who was I to question those with the training or the degree?  I did not have a sound mind to begin with, so I couldn’t determine good from bad.  At least, I didn’t think I could.

I have learned that, sometimes, no counseling is better than bad counseling.  When you are first starting to search for a counselor or therapist, it is good to bring in a friend or loved one to help you make informed decisions.  Or if you don’t want to bring them along, at least, candidly talk to them about your sessions.

In the beginning, I couldn’t trust my own brain to lead me in the right direction.  I needed help every step of the way.  By bringing in a third party, you can bounce ideas off each other.  This practice will increase your confidence.  The more times you are affirmed in your decisions, the more you will begin to trust your intuition again.  Mental illness not only damages the brain but also damages the trust you have in yourself.

If you already go to counseling or are just deciding to go, it is very important to remember that you are still in control, no matter how messed up you feel.  What you put into your session, determines how much you will get out of it.  You control the path and the focus.

When I first started, all I could do was show up.  Sometimes, that is where you are and that is all you can give.  It is still a good first step.  It is okay to take time to build a trusting relationship with your counselor.  You don’t have to go in the first day and spill your whole life story.

However, it is important to know that if you aren’t getting anywhere with your current counselor, you are under no obligation to stay.  The only obligation you have is to take care of yourself.

I’ve seen some wacky therapists over the last decade.  I always felt guilty leaving them to find another one.  I was never sure of myself.  I had to rely on my husband for help and affirmation.

Even though the experience is still trial and error, so far, it has worked for me.

Going to Counseling, 101
Here are my tips, take them or leave them…

1.     Find a counselor in your insurance network.  If you are like me, money can cause a lot of anxiety.  Knowing that my sessions were covered was a huge relief.  I would not have been able to make that first step had I known I would have put financial stress on my husband.

2.     Before you meet with a counselor, call and ask about his/her counseling technique.  Talk to them on the phone personally, not their secretary.  If they are unwilling to have a five minute conversation with you about their practice, don’t waste your time meeting them in person.  Any good counselor will let you know about their style if their intention is to help you.  If it is not an emergency, take your time and call around.  We have more counselors and therapists available to us now than our parents did in their time.  Keep searching, and don’t give up.

3.     Before each session, write down all the things you want to talk about and all the questions you have.  Mentally prepare yourself to talk about these things.  Make lists or write paragraphs, whatever works for you.  Even just taking 5-10 minutes beforehand to think about things will dramatically improve your conversations and produce positive results.

These three simple steps can greatly improve your counseling experience.  I wish I had known these things years ago.  For some, these tips might be no brainers.  However, if I can help just one other person along the path of healing and recovery, then it will be worth it.

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