How to Work Effectively with Your Counselor

You’ve selected and scheduled an appointment with a counselor. You’re about to embark on a special relationship — one that involves honesty, trust and collaboration.

You may feel hesitant to disclose your feelings or behaviors to your counselor, for fear of being judged or rejected. Or you may simply want the counselor to give you solutions to a relationship problem or career challenge. But the counselor’s role is not to solve your problems or give you or your family advice. Professional counselors are trained and credentialed to help you figure out solutions to the challenges you face in life, improve your well-being and achieve your goals.

Many people don’t seek counseling until they’re in crisis. And licensed counselors can indeed diagnose and treat clients with depression, anxiety, substance use problems and other mental health issues. But a counselor does far more than treat symptoms and diagnoses. They can also help you build on your strengths and achieve overall wellness. They listen objectively, ask questions and provide insights that will empower you to enhance your relationships, your career, your health and other aspects of your life.

Check out these tips to help you build a strong working relationship with your counselor and get the most out of your counseling experience:

Understand Your “Why”

To make the most out of each session — especially your first one — make sure you know the reasons you’re seeking counseling in the first place. Sit down ahead of your appointment and list your symptoms — for example, anxiety or grief — and your goals. Maybe you want to improve your relationship with your spouse or partner. Perhaps you’re trying to a break a harmful habit. With a clear understanding of your reasons for seeking help, your counselor can provide objective insights and help you explore options for addressing your problems or goals.

Ask Questions

Make sure you understand how the counselor conducts business. Ask about the cost per session, the policy for canceling appointments, whether they accept insurance and how they will bill you. You can also ask about the treatment plan or about the counselor’s therapeutic approach. Will you be given work to do between sessions? How will you and the counselor track your progress? Understanding these policies and treatment approaches will help you budget for your therapy and set clear expectations.

Be Open and Honest

Don’t hesitate to discuss your history and current circumstances, even aspects that you feel embarrassed or secretive about. Counselors provide objective, open-minded feedback, and they are ethically bound to keep their discussions with their clients confidential. The counselor’s job is to provide a safe space for you to speak honestly and help you understand, manage and reframe the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that are troubling you.

Prepare for Strong Emotions

During your sessions, you may feel better simply by sharing your innermost thoughts. But you may also leave a session feeling distraught as you start to work through painful issues. Counseling can arouse a variety of emotions as you work toward your objectives. Your counselor provides you a safe space to experience and examine those emotions as part of your healing or growth.

Keep It Professional

You may begin to view your counselor as your friend — maybe even someone who you can invite to dinner or meet for coffee. But counseling is not friendship. Although you’re disclosing some of your deepest thoughts and secrets during your sessions, your counselor will refrain from sharing details about themselves. The counselor needs to remain objective to work with you effectively and thus must set professional boundaries. You should never expect to interact with your counselor outside of your scheduled sessions.

Be Mindful of Rapport

Lastly, counseling requires rapport to work. You may find yourself uncomfortable with the counselor’s style. Maybe the available appointment times fit badly with your schedule. Sometimes two individuals simply don’t connect. If, after a few sessions, you don’t feel you’re developing a secure, productive working relationship, you should share those concerns with your counselor. The disclosure could open a discussion that will deepen your bond. If the relationship continues to feel unsatisfying, consider seeking another therapist.