What is Counseling?

This piece is primarily from the University of Iowa Counseling Services. While it is specific to their counseling services, it accurately answers general questions about the counseling process.

Counseling and You: What's it All About?

Simply stated, counseling is any relationship in which one person is helping another person to better understand and solve some problem. Friends and relatives provide a type of counseling, as do clergy, academic advisors, teachers, and many others. Counselors have a broad range of experience in developing "helping relationships" and working with many different situations.

In counseling we look for what we find good in ourselves. The good can be used as a  model for the things we would like to change.

Counseling is a change (growth: healing) process in which people (individuals, groups, couples, and families) are helped to:

  • express themselves (catharsis) in a safe, supportive, collaborative, non-judgmental climate;
  • identify, sort-out, clarify their problem laden "stories" (deepened awareness of past & present story and alternative future stories)
  • identify non-helpful patterns (e.g. "crisis" pattern);
  • learn, where appropriate, more helpful coping skills (e.g. "assertive skills")
  • identify and achieve goals that are important to them.

For those with a humanistic bent, the ultimate goal for counseling is to help people to recognize and accept their own internal worth, i.e., to integrate their learned habits of thinking about themselves (their internal messages and images) and their learned behaviors (feelings, physical responses, & actions) to be congruent with who they really are in their essence (beautiful, loving people). --David Santoro, Ph.D, Psychologist, Cleveland, Ohio.

What You Can Expect From Your Counselor

You can expect someone who is interested in listening to your concerns and in helping you develop a better understanding of them so that you may deal with them more easily and effectively. Your counselor will take you seriously and be willing to openly discuss anything you wish to discuss. Expect your counselor to focus the session on you, and not on others. Because counselors have different beliefs about how people change, they differ on how much talking they do in sessions, whether they ask you to do "homework," and their focus of discussion. If you have any questions about what is going on, by all means ask. Counselors have no "magical" skills or knowledge, and will be unable to solve your problems directly for you. Your counselor will want to work with you, but won't do for you what you are capable of doing for yourself. Except under unusual circumstances, your counselor will maintain strict confidentiality about you, and will openly discuss this with you.

Your Responsibilities in Counseling

Your main responsibilities in counseling are to attend your regularly scheduled sessions, talk about what is bothering you as openly and honestly as you can, and complete any tasks or "homework" assignments you may be asked to do. You are expected to let your counselor know if you are unable to make it to a session. Most counseling will require you to try something new or a "different approach." Another thing your counselor will expect is for you to be willing to experiment and try things without jumping to conclusions. You are also expected to let your counselor know when your problems have been solved as well as let your counselor know if you don't feel like you're making any progress. This latter point is most important: your counselor is most interested in your benefiting from counseling.

Common difficulties in counseling.

One of the most difficult steps in counseling occurs before you even see a counselor for the first time. Deciding to seek counseling is the first step in change. Once this decision has been made, the mechanics for change have been set in motion. In the process of changing the way you think, feel, or behave, you usually must try out new ways of doing things. This can make you anxious or frustrated. Also, in the course of counseling you may come to realize that things you once thought of only in a positive or negative way you may see a bit differently. The challenges of pushing on your limitations may also cause your frustrations, but with commitment and practice, you will find that you can stretch your limits and find new and exciting aspects of your self.

Tips on how to benefit from counseling:

Be ready to focus on a specific problem or issue. Be prepared for your sessions. Attend your sessions and take an active part in them. Complete (or at least attempt) any "homework." Tell your counselor if you don't think you're being helped.

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