My favorite question to ask clients in their first session is, “What do you think counseling is like?” The responses I hear range from “I have no idea,” to, “I lay down on a sofa and tell you everything about my life.” Generally, the consensus is that most people have no idea what counseling even is. I believe that the mystery of counseling is one reason why more people do not consider giving it a chance. The lack of awareness with counseling makes it really difficult to personally consider it as an option when things aren’t going well. The purpose of this post is to remove the mystery of “talking to a stranger” and give you a clearer idea of what counseling looks like.
The best way to describe what counseling is like is to talk about what it’s not:
1.It’s not a place to get advice.
There’s a common misconception that counseling is a place where you can receive wise counsel for your life. Counselors are not created to be consultants, spiritual leaders, or authority figures. They can provide suggestions and introduce options, but their role is not one of providing straight-up advice. And often times, there’s no “right answer.” Should I continue dating my boyfriend or should I try being single for a while? Each option has its own set of repercussions to which any counselor cannot fully predict. If what you’re looking for is direction, the role of a counselor is to guide you to make your own decisions.
2.It’s not the same experience for everyone.
Not all counselors work the same or “do” the same thing. The common goal for every counselor is to help clients reach their goals, but the path towards reaching the goal might look different, depending on who you see. The perspective each counselor holds on thoughts, emotions, and behavior, is different, so therapy styles will vary. This is actually a great thing! If you’ve ever had a bad experience with counseling, try again! Most likely, you will have a different experience with someone else.
3. It's not magic.
This one seems obvious, but surprisingly, people have a misconception that attending therapy sessions will automatically make things better. The truth is, a counselor can equip you with skills, resources, and insight, but if you’re not truly motivated to change, nothing will change. It takes a brave amount of honesty to be truthful about your struggles and a good amount of effort to experience real change. The effort might look like tracking your thoughts/emotions/behaviors for a week, writing in a journal, reading a suggested book, exercising more frequently, forgiving someone that’s hurt you, or developing healthy boundaries.
Overall, mental health counseling should not be mysterious. Counselors are professionals just like doctors or accountants, however their focus is simply on mental health. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to develop a healthy mental state. With a strong mind, anything is possible, and counseling is just one tool to help you in that process!