When I tell people I am a counselor, it always makes me smile when I learn that someone has been positively impacted through counseling. Their response is invariably, “Oh, I LOVE my counselor!” From others, a usual response might come in the form of a comparison. “Like a social worker?” or “You’re a shrink?” or “Like at a school or something?” Questions like that help me remember that counseling can seem like a mystery to some. What is this thing I do? What happens in counseling?
Let me start by telling you what counseling isn’t.
- It isn’t just random chatting or advice giving.
- I don’t have a couch. My clients don’t lie down on a sofa and stare at the ceiling while I say “mmm-hmmmmmm” a lot.
- It isn’t the 10 minute office visit you get with your doctor or psychiatrist to have medications refilled.
- It isn’t whining or wallowing in your sorrows.
- It isn’t just for “crazy” people.
In my counseling practice, I typically start out seeing clients once a week for 60 minutes. In every session, my goal is to find out how a client is doing, what their concerns are, and what they’d like to work on. I have several assessments that I use regularly. They are short and simple for clients to complete and provide information that helps clarify goals and guide our work together. I listen. I offer explanations on the chemistry and brain structures at work in anxiety and depression. I assign homework to change the brain for healthy outcomes. I give clients a safe, confidential place to explore painful pasts, current difficulties, fearful futures or all of the above. But we don’t just explore that pain. I engage clients in techniques to move them toward the positive places they desire for themselves. I ask questions. Sometimes clients cry, but not always. Sometimes clients laugh, too, because the human experience really has a lot of comedic moments when you stop and think about it.
If it is going well, what happens in counseling is that a relationship develops between the client and counselor where the client feels heard, understood, respected, believed, and esteemed. This is called a therapeutic relationship because it can lead to mental healthiness. What happens in counseling? Improvement. Restoration. Healing. Magic.