By the time someone seeks out a therapist, a significant amount of struggle and pain has already occurred. Most people have attempted to do something to make themselves feel better to no avail. At some point, they realize that they could benefit from an outside person to help with their issue.
It is not always easy to pick up the phone and call for help. In fact, most people put it off as their symptoms worsen. They often hope things will just improve on their own without intervention or try and struggle to improve things on their own.
It is no surprise that when people actually begin counseling that they inadvertently or even intentionally do things to sabotage their own success. After 20 + years experience in mental health counseling, I am covering 5 ways that clients sabotage their own counseling process.
1. No-Show your appointments.
Yep, make sure not to give your therapist any notice. Not only are you taking a slot away from someone who could have really used it had you given sufficient notice, but it completely disrupts the therapists schedule as well.
Later when your therapist addresses it with you, avoid telling him or her the real reason such as therapy is becoming difficult, too vulnerable or hard work but that you had to feed your cat. (yes, I was actually told that once.)
2. Withhold relevant information.
Of course it takes time to build trust and rapport. I don’t think any therapist would expect their client to share their darkest and most painful stories on the very first session. However, sometimes clients can play games with their therapist in an effort to avoid doing the hard work by saying things like, “Well you never asked me that so I never told you.”
Counseling is a collaborative process between therapist and client. Both must work together. Contrary to popular belief, therapists really are not mind readers. Counseling has a beginning, a middle and an end. If you want to have a mutually satisfactory outcome then sharing all the relevant bits of your situation are essential.
3. Ghost your Therapist.
Therapists are a compassionate bunch. We truly do care what happens to you and we wonder how you’re doing when you suddenly just disappear. Please if counseling isn’t going as you hoped or if it’s just getting too difficult, please communicate with your therapist and let them know. They can pace the sessions so that you feel more comfortable and engaged in the process. It’s okay to even take a break from counseling for a while.
4. Blame therapist for lack of change.
This one is a bit two sided. If your counseling experience is one in which you just vent about your week, you will not experience change, at least not lasting change. And you’re definitely not building new skills to solve the problems that you’re having and symptoms will persist. You might feel better temporarily but you won’t experience results. So if you are not making any progress because of a dump session style of counseling then responsibility for the lack of change truly lies with the therapist.
If indeed your therapist is giving homework, improving coping skills, and increasing insight and you are not experiencing change, consider if you have not been giving your therapist adequate feedback. In addition, take full ownership of your contribution to the problems that had you seek out counseling in the first place.
It is important to shift your mindset of counseling to a “working with” model versus a “doing to” model. I always tell my clients that nothing magical happens within a counseling session but it is the work that is done outside of the appointment, during all the other days of the week, in which true transformation occurs.
5. Don’t do your homework.
This ties in with the above example. No one I have worked with has gotten better without doing some type of homework. When the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of changing, that is when you will be willing to do whatever it takes to get better and stay better.
So do you recognize any of these behaviors in your own past counseling experience? If so that’s a good thing. Now you can be aware of them and understand the resistance to change that is behind them. Once you are aware then you have the power to make different choices. Transformation does not come without doing the hard work. I wish there was an easy button. I wish there was some kind of fast pass.
But we didn’t come about our problems or symptoms overnight so likewise change doesn’t happen overnight. Remain committed. Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work. You’ll look back on your counseling experience and be glad for it.