Seeking counseling takes a lot of courage and you did it.
You finally got the kahunas to find a counselor.
You tell your life story to this one person who holds the right college degree hoping they can fix your problem.
You feel you have invested emotions and more but you are still feeling bad.
This sucks for you, right? So, what are you going to do about it? Complain to your friends and family about how lousy your therapist is?
Never attend another session without telling your therapist why? There are many more grown up ways to handle this situation and help you make your decision on what to do with your counselor.
The first step is to figure out what went wrong.
Did the Counselor Suck?
Counselors have a lot of education and they have experience in their field.
So, they should not suck at what they do.
With that being said, some therapists do suck. Counselors are supposed to show you empathy in regards to your problem. Empathy is the counselor’s ability to relate to your emotions and thoughts and put themselves in your shoes to understand your situation. If your counselor responds to all of your statements with a statement about their own life, that is not empathy. If they start fake gagging when you talk about a personal issue, they are not being empathetic.
If your counselor files her nails or checks his phone while you are talking, not good.
A good counselor will have multi-cultural competencies.
What is that, you ask?
It means your counselor should be able to find ways to relate to you regardless of race, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs. You should be given the same professional counseling even if you are a 54 year old politician who worships the planet Pluto.
Confidentiality is an absolute must in a good counselor.
What is said in the counselor’s office stays in the office.
It’s the law.
If they choose to share your information with co-workers at lunch break, you can choose to sue them. It is absolutely illegal for counselors to repeat what you say to anyone else unless you have threatened to harm yourself or someone else or subpoenaed by a court.
So if you tell your counselor you are going to kill your neighbor by running them over with your car, they have every right to call the police and save your neighbor’s life. While you may be talking out of anger, they have to take you seriously, just to make sure your neighbor does not turn up in the obituaries.
But if you tell your counselor you are secretly gay and your counselor outs you to the world, call your attorney, they have violated your confidentiality rights.
You can evaluate your therapist and your therapeutic process by taking this online quiz.
This will give you some insight into your relationship with your counselor, helping you decide if you need to dump them or not.
Now, if you are on therapist number three or four or more, it’s time for some serious self-reflection. Take an honest look at yourself and be open enough to admit you are the problem, if you are the problem.
Did You Suck as a Client?
Yes, you. Sometimes the client is the problem and not the counselor.
You have responsibilities to the counseling process in order for it to work. Oh, you thought you could show up for a few counseling sessions and all of your problems could be solved? Not a chance. You have to show up every time. Not much counseling can be done if you are not there.
You also have to talk and participate in counseling. Unless you made an appointment with the Psychic Counselor in town, you have to assume your therapist does not automatically know what you are thinking.
It is also your responsibility to let your counselor know if you feel like you are making progress or feel like you are not making progress. Counselors are taught to help you find the right treatment plan for you, even if that means they are not the right counselor for you.
A good client is dependable, meaning you do what you are supposed to do even when you don’t want to do it. You have to let those walls down and trust somebody for once. Be willing to take risks and take the advice of someone else, and learn to delay pleasure for something greater.
Don’t get caught up in yourself and have unrealistic expectations of your counselor.
If you see your counselor at the grocery store and they ignore you, it is not because they don’t care. Well, that could be the reason.
But most of the time they are simply protecting your confidentiality rights. By waving to you and hanging out with you in public, they are revealing that they have some sort of relationship with you, which goes against privacy policies.
Tell your therapist about the expectations you have so you don’t have to guess what will happen and you are not setting yourself up for disappointment.
If you go in and tell your counselor you expect to be given a medication that will make you feel better that day and you will only need to attend counseling three or four times, your counselor will be able to pop the air out of that balloon.
Therapists do not prescribe medicines and it takes a lot more counseling to resolve problems, from 10 weeks to a year.
Sucks, but at least you know up front. Start the process on the right foot. Be honest so you can get appropriate treatment and a correct diagnosis.
Did You Get the Right Diagnosis?
Good counselors will assess your problem and give you a diagnosis over a period of time, not within the first five minutes of meeting you.
You don’t meet your counselor, tell them you are sad, and receive a diagnosis of depression.
If this does happen, get out of that office.
First of all, you could be a pathological liar. Or, you could be confusing sadness with another emotion. You could be basing your feelings on what other people told you, like that crazy ex who kept calling you bipolar. You didn’t go to school for Psychology.
It is doubtful you can effectively diagnosis yourself. If you could, you wouldn’t need a therapist in the first place.
You do need to be honest and tell the counselor your symptoms, all of them, to get the best diagnosis. Counselors are not there to judge you and I promise they have heard it all before. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be shy. Remember you have to try a new way of healing. You have been trying your way for quite some time. Quoting Dr. Phil, “how’s that working out for you?”
A good diagnosis involves the therapist asking many follow-up questions to your statements so they can get a fair outlook on your issues.
A good therapist will not rush through your diagnosis. Are you really going to trust this person with all of your personal issues in your first session?
Your therapist should know this and encourage you to come back each week to build trust so he or she can make the right diagnosis for you. I know, you are impatient and want results right away.
You live in a society where the entire culture is focused on instant gratification.
But if you get the wrong diagnosis, you are totally screwed. A diagnosis can stick with you like a sexually transmitted disease. Even if you have a pile of evidence that shows you never had it, people don’t care and they call you crazy and say you are in denial.
It’s bad, really bad.
Don’t Cross That Line
In counseling, boundaries can be crossed in a safe way, like when a counselor tells you a little bit about themselves in order to show you they can relate to your story. Or when a counselor gives you a pat on the back to show you did a good job. There are also times when boundaries can be violated, either by you or the counselor.
To give you a brief explanation of boundaries and just so there are no misunderstandings, it is not okay to have a crush on your therapist. It is not okay to give them a gift or invite them to see you outside of the counseling session. And it is never ever okay to have sex with your therapist. In fact, it is not even okay to discuss your sexual fantasies or make advances or anything else that gives you a thrill. This is also true for your counselor. They cannot make any kind of move on you, not even verbally, that suggests they want to have a relationship that is anything other than professional. This is wrong in every sense of the meaning. So if your counselor asks to give or get a back rub during session, run.
And there are not only sexual violations; other boundaries need to be kept. No money can be exchanged between the two of you except for payment of fees due for professional services. Neither of you can suggest going into business together. Do not ask your counselor for a loan and never ask if you can vacation at their beach house for free. It’s doubtful a counselor makes enough money to own a beach house but you get the point. Counselors cannot give rides, run errands for you, or hit you up for a loan so don’t even ask. And your counselor should not be texting you or turning you into the therapist while they act like the client, telling you all of their problems. These are all wrong, very wrong.
You know that little voice that tells you if something is right or wrong? You know that knot in the pit of your stomach that gives you a feeling of uneasiness or confidence? Listen to it! If you feel uneasy, get out. If you feel ease and confidence, stay and get help until you are feeling better or until you know it is time to switch to a different therapist.
The Fat Lady is Singing
Okay, so you have evaluated your counseling situation and decided it is time to move on to a better therapist.
You have determined which one of you sucks the most and it is obviously them. Where do you go from here? The one thing you don’t want to do is quit therapy altogether. Just because you didn’t have the best results with one therapist doesn’t mean the counseling process with someone else can’t offer you great results.
Did you stop dating after your first breakup or switch to someone new? Did you stop eating after one food poisoning experience or focus on other foods you felt safer to eat?
There are actually good guidelines you can follow when leaving one therapist for another.
Tell your current therapist you are leaving. Be honest with them.
And even though you haven’t paid your stinking bill yet, they will most likely help you find a new therapist. In fact, most therapists are trained on how to handle these situations professionally. They may even be relieved to see you go because it was like pulling teeth to get you to offer information.
It is important that you also get a copy of your records, they are yours legally.
Lastly, do not compare your new therapist to your old one.
Do they look the same?
No. So it is unlikely their counseling styles will be the same.
Check yourself. Make sure you do your part in making your counseling successful. Own your role. Have a positive attitude and take what you learned from your previous counselor, good or bad, and use that in your healing. Positive thinking plays a huge role in getting better emotionally and physically. Just as your therapist.