This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
You’re starting counseling for the first time—Congratulations! Being able to take the first step to get help for whatever you’re going through is so brave and important. It’s also important to remember that counseling can only help if you’re able to make the most of your time and put into it what you’re hoping to get back.
These days, you can even go to online therapy if you’re not so stoked with an in-person therapist. So, figure out what works best for you and run with it! Here are the top nine ways to get the most out of counseling.
Establish Your Goals From The Beginning
When starting counseling, you should try to come to it with some sort of goal. Whether you’re hoping to learn to manage your anxiety or want to cure your PTSD, you should discuss this with your counselor. Some counselors have experience in a certain area or believe in one treatment method over another. You’ll want to discuss with them what treatment methods they generally use when working with others with your condition.
If you are using counseling for advice or a difficult life event, perhaps your goal is to end therapy as soon as possible, once you’ve felt that you’ve vented through the experience or gotten the advice you needed. That’s okay too. Therapy was never meant to last forever. It is meant to help you learn the skills you need to practice on your own.
Find A Good Therapist Match
The most important part of counseling is having a good client-therapist relationship. Being able to find someone who can treat your condition or help you with your concerns is crucial.
For example, here are some good therapist matches:
- Jane has PTSD. She is looking for a therapist with experience in attachment theory and EMDR.
- John has anxiety and panic attacks. He sees a general talk therapist who practices CBT.
- Ayla has BPD and wants to learn new behavioral skills. She goes to a weekly DBT group.
- Sam simply wants advice about work stress in their life. They go to a regular talk therapist online once a month.
If you go to the wrong type of therapist, you’ll likely find yourself not getting the help you need. Even more, if you don’t connect with your therapist or feel unsafe, the healing you need to do will not be able to be done.
Research Therapy Methods Before Selecting A Counselor
Choosing a type of therapy or discussing therapy types with your counselor is also essential to getting the most out of your treatment. Even though most therapists offer traditional behavioral therapy, this type of therapy doesn’t work for everyone.
Especially in the case of those with trauma, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can cause more harm than good. People with trauma need specific validation, gentleness, and someone who is experienced in the ways that trauma works in the brain. CBT puts a lot of emphasis on behavior and “changing yourself,” which can feel shameful and pressuring to someone with trauma.
As well as this, some therapies are just better suited to certain conditions than others. For example, a new therapy called RO-DBT is best for those with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder than it is for someone with BPD.
Push Yourself To Try
To succeed in therapy, always push yourself to try your best. You might be scared, but a therapeutic relationship requires you to put some effort in, even if it’s small. In the end, a therapist is simply a third party that can help you come to the right conclusions and learn new skills. They can’t solve all of your problems or change your life for you.
Find A New Therapist If One Isn’t Working Out
If you do find that your therapist isn’t working out for you, it’s okay to end the therapeutic relationship. It’s better to find a new therapist and start from scratch than to work with someone who belittles you, makes you feel unsafe, or simply doesn’t understand certain key parts of your identity.
For example, some LGBTQ people wish to meet with an LGBTQ therapist. Sometimes, certain racial minorities will also wish to meet with someone of their own race, who understands the unique prejudice they face in life, and how their identity coexists with their trauma and experiences.
Don’t Give Up
Do not give up on your therapist or on your therapy journey. To get help, you must remember that therapy can take years to finally take effect, and you do have to apply yourself. For someone with PTSD or a trauma-based condition or symptoms, therapy can be scary. You may not want to talk or may feel unsafe to open up for many weeks.
It’s okay if it takes you time, but don’t let it make you feel that therapy is worthless. You do have to be ready to start but being able to go and take the first step is amazing in itself.
Only Go When You’re Truly Ready
In the end, therapy is only effective if you truly believe in it and are ready to get help. Factors such as the wrong diagnosis, wrong therapist, and wrong treatment can definitely push you away from the help you need. That’s why it’s important to do your research and be picky.
Go to therapy only when you know you want to and know you’re doing it for yourself. Don’t go to therapy simply because someone else has asked you to or because you think it’s what someone else wants. You have to want to heal for yourself to be able to heal.
Communicate Your Needs And Set Boundaries
Remember, a therapeutic relationship is still a relationship. If your therapist violates your boundaries in any way, you have the right to let them know that you aren’t comfortable with it. For example, if a therapist tells you that they think your sexuality is a phase, you can report them, and you can also express to them that you find it inappropriate and unprofessional.
If you simply do not like the phrasing your therapist is using, or they use a word that triggers you, it’s okay to let them know that you’d prefer they don’t do it anymore. Therapists are there to help you, and they’ll likely want to know how they can help treat you better.
Choose Online Or In-Person Therapy
Finally, choose which type of therapy you want to go to. Online counseling is great and can allow you to get help from the comfort of your home without changing your appearance or having to get up when you simply can’t.
On the other hand, physical therapy might be the best choice for you. If you like being able to speak to someone in person and get out of the house, it’s a great way to do that.