Making the decision to see a counselor is a brave step and for some, can be years in the making. Maybe you’ve experienced a sudden loss or crisis and are now seeking out the help you know you need. Maybe this counseling has been court ordered. Perhaps you’ve been struggling with an addiction that has so entangled you, you don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps you’ve simply reached your breaking point and you know something must change in your life. Whether individual, marriage, or family counseling, here are 5 ways you can get the most out of your counseling experience:
1. Be transparent with your counselor.
This may seem obvious but oftentimes we like to present ourselves a certain way to a stranger that may not always be correct; more like the best version of ourselves rather than the current version of ourselves. For example, omitting key facts to a story of your history such as having an affair early on in your marriage or self-harming as a way to handle anxiety and stress. Be honest. Don’t portray situations, other people, or yourself as worse or better than what is true. The more honest you are with your counselor, the better your counselor knows how to pray for, guide, rebuke and counsel you. You need not divulge all your deepest darkest secrets at your first session, but transparency with your counselor is the best way he or she can truly help you. And that’s why you’re there.
2. Be proactive.
As with most endeavors, you get out of it what you put into it. Sometimes our hurts and sins can blind us from understanding how the Gospel applies to all the aspects of our daily lives. In biblical counseling, we use God’s Word as the primary source of authority in helping us to step out of our blindness and into a place of truth. We provide practical and scriptural homework assignments to help you make lasting change in your life. In other words, your counselor is not going to tell you to “just pray about it” or be content to simply meet for an hour and be done. Together we will look at what the Word of God has to say in your specific situation and then look at how you can practically and biblically seek to connect the truths of Scripture to your thoughts and behaviors.
3. Be patient.
Heart change is a supernatural work that often takes Sometimes a lot of it. This is hard for us to accept in a world that is designed for on-demand results and instant change. Sometimes the process of transformation in your own life or that of a loved one can feel daunting or simply so slow that it feels like there’s no change at all. Remember though that progress is often slow. God is always at work whether or not you can see it. When you are struggling to believe, pray and ask Him for the faith to trust Him as you wait on Him and be realistic about what’s going to happen, especially in those early sessions where you’re still getting acclimated to the counseling experience.
4. Be responsive.
Heed the advice of your counselor. Don’t ignore the feedback and instruction you are given. Just like you go to a mechanic for car expertise and your IT staff at work for computer expertise, your counselor is there to guide you in how people change. Just because you are unfamiliar to the process or you are already exhausted and feel like giving up, it doesn’t mean you should minimize the experience. Persevere. You can do it! If you avoid making the changes your counselor is advising they may either recommend another counselor for you or suggest suspending meeting until you are ready to give it your all.
5. Be prayerful.
Prayer serves several different purposes in counseling. When we pray, we are asking God to give us eyes to see and ears to hear His Word of truth as it pertains to our situation. We want God to remove any blinders that may be hindering our growth and change. Prayer also shows our dependency on God and how much we trust Him. As we pray His Word and listen to His voice God works to transform our hearts to be more in tune with His. This is essential at every step, even when we start seeing real fruit and growth in our situation.
Counseling is a mercy God has given us where He uses other believers to speak His Word of truth into our lives so that we can better know, love, and live for Him. Through counseling, our relationships with God and others are refined. Though the change we want to see may take time and hard work, God is there to walk with us each step of the way. Whether your counseling experience is short-term and situational or long-term and expansive, if you apply these 5 principles, you will better maximize your time and money spent. For more on how to choose the right counselor go to my post on this topic.