How to Gain The Most Benefit From A Counseling or Psychotherapy Session

This article provides simple, practical and effective suggestions for how to utlize counseling or psychotherapy for your greatest benefit.

The decision to meet with a counselor or psychotherapist is rarely an idle investment of time, energy or money.  I compiled this set of suggestions to help make the process as useful and meaningful as possible, based on my decades of Atlanta counseling experience.

Taking just a few minutes with the following questions can help focus your therapy to bring about the best possible outcome in the shortest possible time.  Just like all good athletes "warm up" in order to perform their best, the following questions can prepare you for a productive counseling or psychotherapy session.  There's no need to write anything unless that is useful for you.  Simply reflect on the following: 

  • What do you want to be different in your life? How come? 
  • How will you (and others) know your desired changes are happening?
  • What's a small early/interim marker to let you know you are making progress toward your goal(s)?
  • What positive changes have you already noticed or made since deciding to seek counseling?
  • If you only had one appointment, what is most important for you to talk about?
  • What new skill or characteristic(s) do you need to develop to reach and keep your goal(s)?
  • What are your sources of assistance, support, positive influence or other similar benefits?
  • How does the difficulty or concern you are dealing with make sense to you? What do you think is going on?
  • If your current difficulty or concern contained important life lessons, what might they be?
  • What do you need to remember or do to stay on track to reach your goal(s)?
  • When, how, or in what ways is your life good at this moment?  What are you grateful for?

Also, I suggest that you make the following commitments and affirmations that will help you get the most out of a counseling or therapy session.

  • Be honest. Be as genuine as you can and to be willing to have some conversations you've never had before.  Say whatever has been 'unsayable' in your life.
  • Be ready and willing to look deep into yourself in addition to resolving whatever external situation brings you to counseling. Don't just solve the problem, grow yourself 
  • Insight comes in all shapes and sizes: sometimes the results of therapy are slow to develop, but be open to the possibility that one insight can alter the course of your life.
  • Recognize that big problems don't always need 'big' solutions.  Sometimes even a small improvement, carried out over time, can have life-changing consequences.
  • It might seem obvious, but limit any alcohol or drug use before a counseling session to be as clear and responsive as you can be to the potential of the moment.  
  • Take some time after your session to reflect on whatever you talked about and give yourself some support and encouragement for what the work you are doing.  Journaling can help a lot.
  • Practice and when possible routinize actions that can help you carry forward any insights and momentum you gain in counseling. Keep it going, practice often.  The real therapy is the world.

In addition to the above, if you want to start strong from the first session, or if you want to imake sure that you and whoever is helping you are addressing the the relevant events and themes of your life, consider answering and sharing this list of questions about your journey from birth to adulthood. .

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Bill Herring is a psychotherapist and counselor in Atlanta.  In addition to general adult concerns, he is a nationally recognized expert in treating chronically problematic sexual behaviors such as repeated infidelity, compulsive porn use and sex addiction.  He is the 2019 recipient of the Carnes Award presented by the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health.