That’s the most common question I’m asked by those inquiring about counseling. The short answer is, “yes.” The “how” is where it gets a bit trickier.
According to Prochaska’s Stages of Change Model, there are 6 stages of behavior change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse.
Counseling typically begins in late contemplation and/or early preparation stage. Clients who are entering the preparation phase are in an ideal place to start the counseling process. Someone who’s ready to take action is more likely to have given a good deal of thought to his or her situation and decided that it’s time for some changes.
But not everyone takes the same route. Some individuals cycle from the contemplation to preparation stage, and back again. Others are plagued with denial and try return to the precontemplation stage. Sadly, this cycle can continue indefinitely and until someone is ready to change, they won’t.
5 tips for success
After several years of working with hundreds of clients, I’ve noticed a number of characteristics that predict the likelihood of client success. These practices
1. Make a commitment to your goal
If you’ve decided you want to change and are ready to commit to a process designed to initiate change, of course you’ll do it…right? Coming in to counseling for an hour or so a week might seem like an easy change to make. But then you decide that maybe you’ll use your lunch break to run errands, or you’re tired after work and want to retreat to your couch rather than spend an hour sitting on the one in your therapist’s office.
If you want results, you have to commit to your goal. Period. There isn’t any shortcut around this one. My most successful clients show up every week and are honest with me, and with themselves. They make mistakes, but rarely make excuses.
Most people come into therapy hoping to better understand themselves and learn how to think and behave in more productive and fulfilling ways. The goal isn’t therapy itself, rather what you aim to achieve from the process. It may be to talk to people without feeling so anxious, or to stop feeling sad all of the time. Maybe you want find a healthy relationship, or to get out of an unhealthy one. Whatever your situation might be, you will need to make the process a priority to achieve positive results.
2. Practice what you learn in session
There’s so much value in what comes to light in session. By taking your therapist’s recommendation to engage in outside learning and activities, you can increase the chances of successful and permanent changes in your thoughts and behaviors.
You might be asked to do some reading, or making notes, or trying a new activity to enhance growth and health. These practices promote the action stage of change, as shown above, provide opportunities to strengthen your understanding of the counseling process, and gain experience so that you may learn what works, and what doesn’t. It’s not always going to be easy, and it may make you uncomfortable (to be discussed in #3), but if you’re committed to change, the end result is worth it.
3. Be ready to get uncomfortable
Change happens outside your comfort zone. Your brain is designed to resist change. Change creates stress, a disruption in homeostasis due to a real or perceived threat, and that feeling of uncomfortability discourages continuance of said change. (It makes you feel weird so the you return to your previous state.) If you’re surviving, that’s good enough for the brain.
This resistance to change is what makes it so hard. To make positive and permanent changes, you will have to push through the uncomfortable experiences. You must be willing to talk about address issues that you would prefer to avoid. You will have to make adjustments in your life, and perhaps let go of some things that are dragging you down.
Through adjustments in behavior and higher order thinking, and consistent practice of those adjustments, your brain adapts to the change. The more you practice, the more the changes are solidified.
4. Say anything, ask anything
Put it all out there. Your therapist is trained to help you sort through it. I’ve had clients tell me that began therapy so worried about what to say or not say, do or not do, that it almost prevented them from showing up. Thankfully they did show up and through the process they learned that the resistance that rears it head in therapy very often mirrors the resistance on the outside.
Therapy provides a space place for inquiry and expression. Sometimes seemingly insignificant thoughts can prove to hold a deeper meaning. Other times, things that seem huge may be far less significant than imagined. Only when you take the risk and share can your therapist help you distinguish between the two.
5. Learn when to stay…and when to go
Therapy can vary greatly in both approach and length of time. The experience will also differ among providers. When you decide to begin therapy, be sure you are choosing your therapist wisely. Research has named the client/therapist relationship as one of the most important factors in successful treatment outcomes. Regardless of modality, it’s critical that you and your therapist have a strong alliance.
If you don’t feel a connection, it’s not something that should be ignored. Bring up your concerns with your therapist. A skilled therapist will welcome feedback and gladly address your concerns. If you continued to feel dissatisfied, it’s OK to discontinue therapy with that provider and start seeking a new provider. It’s perfectly acceptable to inform your therapist that you will be leaving and it’s even OK to request a referral for another provider.
Maybe you are comfortable with your therapist but are wondering if therapy if helping you. Bring it up in session. There are plenty of reasons why clients feel resistant towards therapy. This resistance often sheds light on similar ambiguities in other areas of one’s life. It’s an excellent topic for discussion and will help you make a more informed decision. Better to shine a light on the resistance than to quit therapy prematurely.
Change is a process that requires substantial effort, time and risk. Therapy provides an environment ripe for stimulating change, and ultimately growth if you are willing to hold yourself, and your therapist, accountable.
One day, or day one. You decide.
To learn more about working with me, click here Brandi Adams, MS, LMHC, CAP