The other day at work I decided I needed some sort of activity book that talks about what counselors do for kids. I decided to search google to see if some counselor had already made such a thing that I might purchase…this resulted in Google helpfully suggesting these commonly searched terms. These are Google suggestions based on user inputs.
Typing in “My counselor” Google offered me:
….is attracted to me
Obviously not all is well in counseling land if these are common entries in Google’s search bar. Just as obviously, I don’t know what goes on inside every therapeutic relationship that exists, but I do know what a professional helping relationship should look like. Here, I’ll go through the inside scoop on some of the answers I’d hope you would find on these google searches.
“My counselor isn’t helping.”
How many sessions have you had with your counselor? One? Or more than 4? If you’re several sessions in and you’re finding it hard to talk to your counselor, maybe the ‘click’ just isn’t there. For therapy to work you have to find a counselor that you click with, that you can talk to, and even more importantly someone who listens to you. If you’re one or two sessions in and it’s still a bit stiff and hard to do, it could just be part of the process. Give it a little bit. If you’re many sessions in and you feel like it should be easier to talk or that they should be “getting” you by now and they aren’t, it could be time to switch.
Before you give your counselor the boot, though, make sure that you’ve talked to them about the issue. If he or she isn’t listening or talks too much about themselves or isn’t what you were hoping for as far as technique, personality, approach, etc., bring it up. Ask, “How many sessions does a person usually have before things start flowing more easily?” Or, “I feel like this isn’t going how I imagined.” Give them a chance to know what’s going on for you. It could be that some emotional projection from you or the counselor is causing some hang up that will be easily resolved.
What is your definition of “helping”? Were you upfront about what you wanted to achieve in counseling from the start? If not, maybe you need to bring up wanting to clarify your goals or focus in therapy with the counselor. If you’re not comfortable doing that, it may be a sign that you’ve got some assertiveness issues to work on or that your counselor isn’t someone you feel comfortable talking to, which won’t get you far at all. If your definition of helping is a counselor telling you exactly what to do with decisions in life, the problem lies with you. Counselors should not give advice. They should help you make your own choices by helping you hone a decision making process, sort through options, and talk them out - even help you discover feelings you have about choices you have, but counselors should not be giving out advice left and right. It undermines the point of the counseling, which is ultimately to get you into a place of wellness, which includes being able to make choices for yourself.
A counselor should tell you their approach to counseling, how they conceptualize issues, tell you about confidentiality and its limitations, and work to make sure you know what’s going on. You are more than half the process after all. That said, the therapeutic alliance or relationship is what accounts for success in many studies on the effectiveness of counseling regardless of modality. If it isn’t there, you’ve mentioned it, and you’re not getting the results you want, move on. The counselor shouldn’t take it personally. It happens and it happens to every counselor at some point.
“My counselor is leaving.”
It happens. Counselors retire, get fired, quit, and take breaks to recuperate from their work. This is why it’s best to see a counselor who is an ACA member and who is licensed by their state. Counselors who are licensed and ACA members must adhere to strict ethical codes that provide for these circumstances.
Your counselor should give you plenty of notice that they’ll be unavailable for whatever reason beginning whenever. You should be given referral options. Either being transitioned to another counselor within whatever practice or agency you’re going to already or referrals for a counselor your current one recommends. The transition process within an agency or even from one agency to another can include joint sessions where your counselor and the new one will meet with you together over a period of sessions.
Your counselor should even have back up plans for if he or she is hospitalized or dies that refers your care to another counselor in those events. At the start of your counseling treatment ask these questions. No answers? Move on.
“My counselor is attracted to me.” Or, “My counselor is hot.”
This has definitely happened. The ACA and state ethics boards have strict ethics codes that handle action on these feelings which are called ‘dual relationships’.
A counselor is in a position of authority no matter how equal we may seem or what type of therapeutic partnership may develop. A counselor is someone you’ve gone to for help, trusted with your deep secrets, and placed faith in, whether you think of it that way or not. Just as your doctor or pharmacist or local police officer coming to your rescue is - these professionals have a responsibility to remain professional.
A counselor gets information about you, how you think, how you feel and believe, that he or she can (even without obvious intention) use that creates an authoritative shift in any relationship you might have outside of therapy with them. That’s why these relationships are frowned upon generally and are forbidden for a number of years after your counseling relationship with them ends. Entering into a relationship with someone who is a client, whether seemingly consensual or not, is a huge no go.
All of that being said, how do you know they’re attracted to you? What are they doing that makes you think so? There are some problems people enter therapy for that are directly related to feelings of attraction.
A counselor should seem to be interested and caring. That’s part of the job. Clients can misread empathy for attraction or our interest for flirtation. That has happened too. There’s also transference and counter-transference to be watched for (google that!). Client feelings for another person can be projected onto the therapist and vice versa. If some line has been crossed, they’re ethically bound to address the issue to resolution or refer you to another clinician.
A good counselor will be watching out for transference. If it is happening it usually resolves itself after the therapeutic relationship fully develops. If your counselor is hitting on you or making moves, get out now!
If your counselor is very attractive to you physically and it’s distracting to your progress in therapy or takes away from why you got started in the first place, address it in counseling or pull the plug. Your mission was wellness originally, right? Getting distracted on the path to wellness is totally normal! It’s ok! Just recognize it for what it is (transference) or real attraction and deal with it or move on so you can get the help you set out to get.
“My counselor cried.”
This is a toughie. Your counselor cried. Our job in counseling is to hold space for people to experience their own emotions. Typically, this can’t be done with a counselor heaving their own emotional reactions into the counseling space through tears or other serious reactions to things you share. If your counselor’s emotional reactions become a hindrance to you; if you’re worried about his or her reaction to what you’d like to share because it may burden them in some way and then burden you because now you’re left comforting the counselor, that is not good.
Compassion fatigue and burnout can cause counselors to have reactions in inappropriate ways, but that isn’t an excuse. If you feel like you can’t share or that you have to emotionally support the counselor, bail. You need a healing space where you can share without this kind of worry or consideration. You deserve that!
This is what sets the counseling relationship apart. It isn’t a two way street. With friendships, each person gives a little of themselves and this builds intimacy. There are strings with friends, though. We come to know what our friends will think of our behaviors or choices and so there gets to be a point where we censor ourselves a bit sometimes. That’s how friendships work. With counseling relationships, there isn’t an even exchange of information. It’s mostly the client sharing, and that’s what sets it apart and makes it possible for people to really open up and dig in to material in therapy. You can’t do that if you know what you’re about to say will send your counselor into the Kleenex.
I’m so weird about this stuff that I even refrain from pointing out Kleenexes in the room on the table. I don’t want my clients feeling like I’m uncomfortable with their pain or tears. The tissues are in plain sight. My pointing them out is a no-no for me - it might create the impression I’d like them to dry it up and that simply isn’t the case. If crying is what the client needs or feels the urge to do then they should do it without my hindering their process.
There’s an exception to every rule, though. I had a professor who told me a handful of times where crying with her clients - notice with and not for - was the right thing to do. Short answer - if the crying makes you uncomfortable, speak up, or move on. You won’t get far on your journey to wellness if you’re worried about your counselor’s feelings instead of your own.
The bottom line is finding a counselor that fits with you, that you feel comfortable talking to, someone that places value on your wellbeing by practicing ethically, and someone that is able to challenge you into growth (respectfully). If your counselor isn’t that person, don’t hit the google search bar for too long; make a plan to discuss and resolve or google for a new counselor in your area - and do yourself a real favor and make sure the new counselor is an ACA member, with an NCC behind their name in addition to state licensing credentials!
Whitney White is a counselor working in Texas in multiple settings with diverse populations. Some of her areas of passion are anxiety, non-suicidal self-injury, and compassion fatigue. With an integrated approach utilizing client strengths, she supports others in achieving their best self. For more information please visit counselingbywhitney.wordpress.com. The thoughts expressed in Whitney’s blogs do not represent her employers.