For many people the idea of starting counseling can be an uncomfortable decision. Many have the question of “How does counseling help?” Let me help to answer that question by describing a little about counseling in general and my approach.
The first task of counseling is to establish a “therapeutic alliance”, in other words the client needs to feel comfortable and understood by the therapist, so a mutually trusting relationship can begin to develop. Once a therapeutic alliance is established, counseling works by a balance of both Science and Art. The science behind counseling has shown that the therapeutic experience can create new synaptic connections and neural pathways in the brain. In other words when people experience different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving - while feeling distressed; new pathways are created in the brain. There are numerous scientific studies to support this and show that it can be as effective or more effective than medication alone. The counseling experience is also an art because each individual is unique and brings their own experiences and past history into the relationship. It is the job of the therapist to identity which techniques will work best for each client and apply them at the correct time in the most expedited fashion. This is why “cook book” approaches often produce minimal if any results.
As you might imagine, I cannot tell you exactly how I would approach your specific problem or concern, but a couple things are relatively constant. First you will always be treated in a respectful and professional manner. I will listen to your concerns and try to establish what you want to get accomplished in counseling. Often this is done by talking about what you really want out of life; what’s important and meaningful to you. Then, using that information as a guide, we’ll look at how you can set goals and take action to change your life for the better - and in the process, develop a sense of meaning, purpose and vitality. Another typical aim is to teach you a set of skills that will allow you to handle painful thoughts and feelings far more effectively and in such a way that they have much less impact and influence over you. It is only after people learn to effectively handle difficult feelings, urges, memories, thoughts and sensations that they start to break self-defeating habits, destructive patterns of behavior and let go of self-defeating beliefs.
My approach is also very active. We don’t simply just talk about your problems. It’s an approach in which you actively learn new skills to improve your quality of life. A key part of my approach is to involve you learning new skills in the session, and then taking them home and practicing them in between sessions. The more you practice, the more benefits you’ll get – and vice-versa. What this means is, that in some sessions we will actually need to bring up some of those painful thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations and urges during the session - so you can practice using these new skills to handle them better. Because of this, at times this therapy may be very challenging. However at all times we will be working collaboratively, as equal team-players – so you will never be pushed or coerced into anything you are unwilling to do.
It’s always hard to know how many sessions this will take. A good rule of thumb is to commit to six sessions, and then on session six, we’ll take stock, see how you’re going, and see if you need any more. If you find that you don’t need that many sessions, that’s fine too. Also, we have to be realistic; no therapy works for everyone, so if this approach doesn’t seem right for you, or you’re not happy with the way it’s progressing, it is easy to refer you on to colleagues who have different approaches.