How to Get the Most Out of a Counselling Session
1. Being Present
Counselling is very much a process of focussing on your thoughts and feelings so it makes sense to be as present – emotionally and intellectually – as possible. This means – as far as is possible -being relaxed, unflustered and not distracted by extraneous things on your mind. I have noticed that clients who arrive agitated, having say missed a bus or had trouble parking, take longer to arrive emotionally. It’s as if the session doesn’t really start until ten minutes in. Avoid as many distractions as possible. So if you have an important call to make, do this before the session rather than after. Also try to ensure you don’t turn up hungry or tired. There’s nothing worse than a rumbling tummy interrupting your flow! If you have a relaxation practice such as yoga, mindfulness or simply just sitting quietly for a few moments, consider taking time out to do this before a session. It’s also a good idea to reflect upon your previous session at this time, in order to prepare yourself.
2. Space Afterwards
Counselling may involve exploring difficult feelings that perhaps we feel we need to keep at bay in our everyday lives in order to get through our day. It can be a problem for many clients to bring up these feelings and then have to return to their busy schedule. I have sometimes sensed clients pulling back from difficult emotions as we approach the latter part of the session for fear of being left ‘in a state’ when they need to return to work. This although completely understandable, means the session is effectively shorter and less therapeutic than it could be. The best way round this is make sure you have space after the session, by booking an end of day or pre-lunch slot, where you don’t have to face anyone or anything straight afterwards. This time is also very valuable to reflect on and integrate what you may have experienced and discovered in the session. It has been shown in surveys that clients who are motivated to continue the work outside the sessions report greater gains; which brings us to the next point …
3. Do Any Necessary ‘Homework’
If you can it’s a good idea to carry on the work of counselling outside sessions. There is only a limited amount of work that can be done in the counselling room. Often the real work is done in our everyday lives. You may for example realise within a session that you are habitually putting others’ needs before your own. Realising this is great, but if you don’t work on countering this outside the session, the insight is not worth much. If you’re not sure what would be useful for you to work on outside sessions, you can discuss this with your therapist. Some clients find it helpful to keep a journal or set aside a few moments at the end of the day to reflect on their process. Or perhaps you might want to purchase books on a particular issue or borrow them from your therapist. You can also find many helpful articles, blogs or relevant forums online. Your therapist may be able to make recommendations. This works for some; though for others involving the intellect may not be helpful.
4. Rhythm and Timing
Clients seem to progress best with regular sessions. Weekly is usually optimal, but for those facing a crisis or who have a lot of issues, twice a week can accelerate the process. Any less than weekly can affect momentum, and many find it hard to pick up the threads each time. Try to have your session at the same time of day and same day of the week, as this helps to create a rhythm. You may, however, want to experiment with scheduling at the beginning. Some of us are morning people whereas some people find they are at their best in the afternoon or evening. Find out what works for you and stick to it so you can focus on the important stuff. It’s good to avoid breaks in continuity wherever possible, so avoid scheduling alternative appointments during your counselling time. However, some breaks for holidays or illness are of course inevitable.