I was thinking about things I would want my clients to know before they begin therapy. One thing that often becomes an issue in achieving successful outcomes from therapy is that sometimes clients have unrealistic expectations about the therapy process. One or two therapy sessions of getting things off your chest would be a great way to fix all your problems, but nothing that makes a lasting change is ever that easy. Therapy is a place to safely close out the outside world and bravely open the places inside that need work. That process takes a few things to ensure that it is successful.
First, you need a good working relationship with your counselor.This is important because if you do not feel safe and supported by your therapist, nothing good will come of your time spent on the therapist’s couch. Your time and money is valuable so don’t waste it. Most counselors would prefer an open conversation with you about why you do not feel supported or safe enough to do good work in therapy. If after that conversation things cannot be done better, it is perfectly acceptable to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. I would fully support and help you find a therapist that is right for you. The most important thing is not to give up on therapy!Often failed therapy has more to do with unmet and unrealistic expectations that were not made clear by the therapist or the client.
Another thing that a client should be aware of is that with certain presenting concerns there is not a time limit to how long therapy will need to be continued. Except for time constraints of insurance policies that limit your number of sessions, counseling may need to be continued for an extended period to see long lasting changes. An article from the American Psychological Association suggests it takes 15-20 session on average for 50% of clients to see lasting changes. Clients with co-occurring conditions average 12-18 months of weekly sessions with long term maintenance sessions periodically scheduled after that to prevent relapse of symptoms. (Please see article referenced below for more information.) Some counselors may suggest you do six weeks consecutively to see how you are progressing and then the frequency of sessions can be better evaluated. Every client is different and so is their level of care needed. Some clients may need to participate in therapy indefinitely and find having a safe therapeutic relationship is what they need to continually improve their overall mental wellness.
It is also important not to believe that when coming to a therapist it is their job to “fix” you or your problems. Therapist are trained to help you better understand yourself and your issues, help you gain the tools you need to be successful in managing challenges that arise, and encourage and support you as you make the decisions that are best for you. We don’t live with the consequences of the decisions you make so we cannot make decisions for you. If you feel therapy is not working for you, then you might want to evaluate how dedicated you are to making changes. Once you are dedicated therapy will not only help you become a better person but improve your quality of life.
In the end, what your therapist most wants is for you to know that they care. We would not be in this profession if we didn’t. For me, to see a client become empowered to take control of their own life and make positive changes instead of allowing life to happen to them is powerful. Your success is the joy of our profession. To get to those successes it takes a healthy therapeutic relationship, clear expectations, time, and hard work. I hope that with this information you will give some insight into the work both therapist and clients need to commit to making therapy work.
Grace and Peace – Erin Boehme, M.A., LPC-Intern