How Will I Know if Counselling is Actually Working?

How Will I Know if Counselling is Actually Working?

We have all seen those images of someone talking on and on to a therapist and the therapist usually saying very little. “Mmm hmmm.” “Tell me more about that.” Or, cringe, “How does that make you feel?”

Because of these images, counselling Calgary  has often gotten a bad rap. It’s a great place to poke fun, but who really wants to spend their money on that? And, how is there any chance in hoping that could be effective? I don’t think if I just talked and talked and someone gave me a lot of mhmms, that would really work for me. Do you?

Whether you choose to see a Certified Counsellor, Registered Psychologist or Registered Social Worker for a counselling appointment, the goal should be the same. To help you to move toward your goals. It shouldn’t be rent-a-best-friend for an hour. The therapist should have at least a Masters level education, and most have several years experience doing an Internship and/or Residency before they start working with you. At this professional level, they have training and are grounded in at least one framework, examples of which include: CBT, Rogerian, Solution-Focused Therapy or Psychodynamic Theory, and this theory is what informs their work. Usually most therapists will say that they’re eclectic, which means they pull from multiple theoretical frameworks, based upon client needs. That said, it helps if they are anchored in at least one or two main theories. They should know those well so that they can conceptualize your case effectively, and then use the tools their framework suggests in order to help you go the direction you want to go.

Once you begin working them, it will become evident that therapy is a process. It’s work for both parties, and it’s definitely not just the simple client mostly talking/therapist mostly listening model we’ve seen on TV.  That said, even with all of this work on both parts, there still may not be significant changes at first. In fact, sometimes people say ‘it gets worse before it gets better’. What does that mean? Well, it means that you may have to bring up uncomfortable topics, you may have to feel feelings you’ve been avoiding and you may have to deal with relationships in your life that aren’t working, and all of this can be disruptive and upsetting, and sometimes clients will feel that therapy isn’t working at all.

So, if that happens and doubt sinks in, how do you know if therapy is actually working or not? Even if you can’t see the outcomes as soon as you were hoping, is it worth it to stick with it?  Here are 3 checkpoints to help to see if your therapy is effective.

  1. Are you making progress on your goals? 

    It’s very helpful if you have goals in mind when you first start therapy. Usually within the first session or two I ask clients something like, What needs to happen in counselling to make you say “I’m so glad I decided to work with Jennifer” on this? Clients usually take some time to think of an answer. They ponder what they want to be different in their life -specifically- for this to be worth it for them. To decide on your Why? Is critical to feeling like you are making progress later.

Then once the goals are decided upon, it’s also a good idea to do some scaling (rating) questions. To see where you’re starting at between 0-10. This sets up an opportunity to check-in midway through therapy and do the rating questions again. When my clients do this they’re often amazed at their progress. Although they haven’t reached their ultimate goal, they can still see and remember what number they started at and notice where they are now in a concrete way. This provides encouragement that counselling is going in the right direction, and that it’s worth the effort to continue. If for any reason a client isn’t making progress, then we have the chance to decide where to go from there. Maybe the treatment plan is adjusted, maybe the client needs to follow through on some homework, maybe the framework being used can be altered. But in any event, setting goals in the beginning, and re-rating those goals mid-way through counselling is a great tool to tell if the counselling is actually working or not.

  1. Has Anyone Close to You Noticed a Difference?

There is this basic truth that “we’re quick to see it in others but slow to see it in ourselves” and this is certainly true for the progress we’re making in counselling. I’m sure if a friend of ours had decided to do the hard work of therapy, we may really notice if they were seeming to be happier, less stressed, more hopeful and so forth, but that may not be true about ourselves. So try to listen if any of your close loved ones notice a change. Good friends will usually mention something, and even if not, we can always ask for their feedback. Sharing that you’ve been working on some things in therapy and seeing if they can identify any changes can be really encouraging.

Additionally, some people in your life might have noticed a difference and let you know, but in a negative way. This isn’t necessarily bad! If you have people in your life that have tended to try to control you, or friends that were a bad influence and you are now setting boundaries, and doing what’s best for you, they may be disappointed and start to express this. Again, this isn’t always a bad thing. It could be a great sign counselling is working and ultimately the goals you have, such as less anxiety or higher self-esteem will be met as you start to stand up for yourself and honour your needs.

  1. What Happens When You Take a Step Back and Reflect on the Earlier You

Sometimes therapy is like climbing a mountain. We decide on a goal and then we have to do the footwork to try to get there. When we’re taking one step after another, it can seem arduous and the scenery can all start to look the same around us. The same is true in life. There are still many life challenges when we’re in therapy, and when these crop up we can be tempted into thinking therapy isn’t working, life is all the same, or maybe even “why bother?”. If this happens, it’s a good moment to stop, turn around and look down the mountain to see where you started from. Try to remember the you that first called and decided to start therapy. What were your days like? What were your feelings at the time? How were your relationships? What were your hopes for the therapeutic process? Sometimes if you take this moment to reflect, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. It can be an opportunity to celebrate all of your hard work, and the person you are today because of it.

These are just a few tips to evaluate the effectiveness of counselling during the counselling process. In addition to generally feeling better after sessions, most clients do want assurance that they are making progress toward their overall goals. If this is important to you, make sure your therapist sets goals with you in the beginning and rates them, and that you have an opportunity to re-rate them midway through treatment. You can also pay attention to any feedback those close to you offer, whether good or bad, as part of the validation of your ongoing transformation. And last, you can honour yourself by taking time to pause, and reflect on where you’ve come from. Even without the first two, the last is usually a clear indicator of what counselling is offering you. Sometimes, above all else, when we take time to self reflect, it turns out that we are indeed the most attuned experts to our own lives.

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