Counseling 101: Your Role as a Client

I remember the first time I went to therapy back in high school. I wasn’t sure what would happen or how I should act. All I had to work with were visions of laying on a couch and telling a distant and stuffy old man what I thought blots of ink looked like. I wondered if it would be helpful and if there were right or wrong ways to be a client. No wonder I didn’t want to go! Looking back, I wish someone would have told me what to expect. Not only that, but I wish someone would’ve helped me understand how to get the most out of it.

If you are new to therapy, the first thing you should know is that no one expects you to be an expert. Your experience will likely differ than the stereotypes you have in your head. There may or may not be a couch. Chances are you won’t be asked to lie down. You only need to worry about being yourself.

Let’s assume that you’ve already taken the time to research a therapist that you will fit well with and have scheduled your first appointment. Here are some tips for how to be successful from this point on:

Therapy works best when you trust your therapist, but remember, trust is earned.

Therapy is a relationship. You are in control of what, when, and how you share information about yourself. Because therapy is an interactive process, your therapist will understand that it will take some time to build trust. Take your time, feel things out, and share when you are ready.

You get out what you put in.

Therapy is an investment in every sense of the word. You will dedicate time, finances, and energy to the process. Your commitment and willingness to be open and try new things will help you grow. If you dedicate time outside of sessions to reflect, process, and practice, you are more likely to have success in achieving your goals.

Don’t be discouraged if things get worse for awhile.

The truth about therapy is that you actually might wind up feeling worse for awhile. You may wind up confronting difficult emotions or challenging truths. This could impact you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. While leaning into difficulties seems counterintuitive, it is the way through. Be honest with your therapist if things get harder for you and lean on them for support and safety while you lean into your pain.

Be patient and gentle with yourself.

Therapy often involves challenging well-established patterns of thoughts and behaviors. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Your decision to be vulnerable is courageous and you will need to take care of yourself in the process. Make sure you are resting well, giving yourself time to pause and relax, and are allowing yourself time and space to process.

Speak up.

Therapists cannot read minds and their primary goal is not to analyze and diagnose you. Your therapist views you as someone they care about. They will be interested in your needs and feedback. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you feel is working or what seems to be a barrier to your success. Present your questions to your therapists and act as an advocate for your own mental health.

There’s no wrong way to be a client. Show up as yourself and you will do well!