Making Your Counseling Experience More Effective

Counseling is an important decision. Once you begin, it is helpful if you are committed to several practices during the counseling process. Below are a few suggestions that I have found to be important in cultivating the most effective counseling experience.

Be Honest

This may seem obvious. Why would someone invest time and, in some cases, money to meet with a counselor and not be honest? It might surprise you to learn why this happens, but what may be even more surprising is discovering that you might relate to these reasons. Honesty is not just about what you reveal but also about what you conceal. You may feel you are being honest because what you shared in your session was the truth. However, what was not shared can be equally or even more integral to present an accurate picture of the situation. Candor is risky but necessary in counseling.

One reason people may withhold information is fear of man, a temptation common to all. It is not that you are afraid of your counselor; rather, you may be afraid of giving your counselor reason to dislike you or think poorly of you. Another common reason for withholding information is pride. Pride encourages the keeping up of appearances. Even in the midst of seeking help from a counselor, the desire to save face can sabotage your steps toward help and healing if you are tempted to be less than entirely honest.

Scripture tells us that keeping silent about our sins or transgressions before God will bring misery (Ps. 32:1-8). We must be honest before God, but we should also be honest with those who God provides to help us. In counseling, lean into honesty and participate in the accountability and wisdom that can come from trusting your counselor enough to be fully honest.

Slow Down

Those who are curious about the counseling process may ask how long it will take. They want to know how many counseling sessions will be necessary until they feel better or until their situation will change. This is not an unreasonable question, but it often reveals an incorrect view of counseling and the process of change. It is important to remember that you are not a problem to fix or solve. You, like me and everyone else, are a complex individual. Your situation is complex. You deserve the attention of careful exploration. Counseling deals with the deepest issues of the heart; it takes time to draw out what is there (Prov. 20:5).

God is not in a hurry. He knows what you need and knows the best timing to bring about what is required. You are going to counseling because you desire change, and change is a process in which you learn more about yourself and God. The process of slowly uncovering fears, desires, and beliefs is necessary. It is the process that is often the point. It is in the process that you begin to see what God is teaching you. Trust the process and avoid the rush to get through it.

Pray

The Bible says that prayer is powerful in its effect (James 5:16). Prayer changes things, and one of the most important things it changes is your own heart. Pray before, during, and after your session. Pray for your heart to be changed through the time with your counselor. Pray that you would be sensitive to God and His Word. Pray that God would encourage and strengthen you as you seek to work through the challenges you face.

Pray for your counselor, too. I feel so strongly about this that I considered making this the only point of this post. Counselors fight their own battles with fear of man in the counseling room. They, too, can be tempted to rush toward change and overlook moments where a long look at Jesus is once again needed.

Your counselor is human, just like you. They have good days and bad days. Your prayers for them are invaluable. Pray that they would be fully dependent on the Holy Spirit. Pray that they would counsel out of a life that is abiding with Jesus. As a counselor, I have been shown many kindnesses by those I counsel, but the thing I am most grateful for is prayer. Make it a priority to pray for your counselor (1 Thess. 5:25).

Certainly, there are more things you can do as a counselee to maximize the counseling process, but if you take these three things to heart and revisit them often, you will get far more out of your counseling sessions. So, if you are currently in counseling or if you are thinking about starting counseling, commit to these things and consider sharing them in a conversation with your counselor to talk about how you are doing in each of them.

Questions for Reflection

  1. As a counselee, are you committed to being honest, slowing down, and praying throughout the counseling process? What other practices help make your counseling experience most profitable?
  2. As a counselor, what other practices of counselees have you found helpful for them to cultivate the most effective counseling experience?

This blog post written by Eliza Huie was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). Visit the BCC for helpful information and resources related to biblical counseling.

When You Don’t Know What To Do

There have been times in my life where I have felt overwhelmed by what I was facing. The circumstance or situation felt too big or too difficult and I really had no idea what to do. My guess is that I am not the only one who has felt that way.

We face things in this life that lead us to that hopeless place where we cannot see a way through. Life can be that hard.

Let me tell you what has transformed my heart and given me hope in the midst of those “I don’t know what to do!” times of life. Take a listen to this ten minute podcast as I share what has helped me. I hope and pray it will encourage you when you find yourself in that place.

How to Fight the Pull of Anxiety

Anxiety is a pulling experience. How much it is pulling often goes unnoticed. Although much of what you feel, when dealing with anxiety, is felt in the present moment it is doesn’t have its strongest hold on the present. Instead anxiety is about the future and the past.

The Pull to the Future

Anxiety pulls you into the future and throws a millions “what ifs” at you. What if this happens or what if that doesn’t happen? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I will be alone? What if my loved ones get hurt? What if get hurt? What if I panic? What if things go wrong? These questions and so many others are what anxiety asks persistently. They are all thoughts about the future. They say to you that you must prepare for the war ahead. Anxiety is the forecast of harm and danger that awaits you. Thoughts of the impending harm begins to feel very present by their continual tormenting.

The Pull to the Past

Anxiety also pulls to the past. Perhaps you have had a troubling experience that replays when situations seem similar. Maybe you have known intimately the feeling of being alone or rejected. The thoughts quickly pull you into the past and another set of “what ifs” invade. What if I fail once more? Maybe the money is going to run out again? What if my illness returns? He/she might leave me a second time? What if my family hurts me again? These thoughts flood your mind and say that life went bad before and it will probably go bad again. Anxiety causes you to look at the present situation through the shadow of past hurts and tells you things are not safe. <–Click to Tweet.

Your Body’s Response

In both of these situations your body begins to respond to future and past struggles in the present. I heard someone once explain the physiological effects of anxiety as your mind telling your body that the war is not over. Despite the fact that often, in the present moment, none of the doom imagined is actually happening the body begins to react as if it is.

Your “fight or flight response” has been triggered by the pull of anxiety. In reaction your brain begins to produce adrenaline to aid you against the perceived harmful attack. You may begin to feel your heart rate increasing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow. You will likely experience trouble concentrating on anything other than the worry. Normal tasks you used to be able to do are much more difficult. You sense you have a shorter tolerance for frustrating moments. You may find sleep is very difficult and so you often feel tired. You might even notice occasionally trembling, numbness in hands and feet, and sweating.

Your body responds even when you aren’t thinking about the anxious thoughts. The anxious buildup from the many thoughts that have flooded your thinking are having their effect on the body. Much like a teacup that is filled to the brim, you don’t notice it is a problem until one more little drop is placed in and then the spillover comes. These physical symptoms can actually cause even more anxiety.

Stay in the Present

So what can be done with these strong pulls to the future and past? The key is to stay in the present. This can be hard for someone who is feeling the physical effects of anxiety. Staying in the present is the way out of the anxious moment. Respond to the physical symptoms of built up anxiety with physical activity in the present moment. Taking slow deep breaths is one of the best ways to fight the physical symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing actually triggers the “rest and digest response” in your brain. By taking a couple slow deep breaths your body begins to respond to the rich oxygenated blood that is going throughout your body all the way to your fingers and toes. In contrast to the rapid shallow breathing that tells your brain something is wrong.

In the present you can begin to counter the anxious thoughts with what is true. Calling to mind helpful truths will give less space in your brain for the anxious pulls of replaying the past or the frenetic thoughts of preparing for the future. Tell yourself that you have gotten through anxious moments before and this moment will likewise pass. Think of the people who have been helpful to you and remind yourself in the moment of how they have helped.

Allow God to be your comfort and hold on tightly to his truth. You do not suffer alone. He promises to help you. It is no coincidence that in Psalm 46:1 it says that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The present is where your help is. He will not leave you or forsake you. Cling to that truth and stay present with it. The Scripture is full of promises from God to be with you in trouble and that he will faithfully help you. The opposite of anxiety is peace. Peace comes from knowing that God is in control when you feel your life is out of control.  (<-lCick to tweet.) Take your struggles to the Lord. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

*Mindfulness activities can help calm anxiety and give your brain a rest from the flooding happening in your body. In addition to deep breathing, here is a simple mindfulness activity to try the next time you are struggling with the physical symptoms of anxiety.