How to Get the Most out of Short-Term Counselling Sessions

Many organisations offer six to eight counselling sessions. When you have a lot going on, this can feel like throwing a teacup into the ocean. However, it can be enough to make changes that significantly improve your wellbeing.

To get the most out of these sessions, try to think about what you want to get out of your counselling. For instance, perhaps you want to find ways to deal with flashbacks or anxiety. Maybe you want to learn new healthy coping strategies or have a relationship concern you want to work through. To feel the most benefit out of your six to eight sessions, it helps to have a clearly defined issue to focus on.

Go to your first session with an open mind. The first session is really about you and the counsellor getting to know each other, what you would like to get out of counselling, and how to develop a plan.

It is important that you feel safe and comfortable with your counsellor. Research has shown that the most important factor contributing to the effectiveness of therapy is what is known as "the therapeutic relationship" – the quality of the connection you have with your counsellor. It helps to view counselling as a collaboration between yourself and your counsellor, where you are working together to improve your wellbeing.

Don't be surprised if raw emotions come up. Your counsellor will teach you ways to work through these strong feelings. Remember counselling is a nonjudgmental space where you can express yourself and explore all the challenges, options and strategies to help you improve your quality of life.

You will need to think about things on your own as well as with your counsellor – you might even have "homework" assigned in between sessions! Probably the most change occurs not in the therapy room, but in your life between visits to your counsellor. Trialling out and reflecting on changes is how your counselling translates to "the real world"; and assists you in improving your mental health and wellbeing.

Some tips:

  • Spend some time and think about what you want to achieve out of therapy before meeting with your counsellor. They will probably ask you "What would you like to get out of therapy?" Knowing clear outcomes makes it easier for the therapist to help you achieve your goals.
  • Schedule a session at a time that works for you so that you are not rushing to or from other commitments. If possible block out a window of time before and after the session to allow time for reflection.
  • Come to your session prepared. Some people find it helps to write down the things they wish to raise with their counsellor. This could include challenges that keep putting you off track or patterns you have noticed.
  • Find things that help you stay on track between sessions. This could include self-care, reflection exercises, or expressive activities such as journaling. You might also consider linking in with support groups or services such as LETSS.
  • Make what you've got work for you, and purposefully plan the way you use your sessions. For example, most organisations renew session entitlements each financial year, so you could space your sessions out so that they cover a year before starting again. Or, if closer sessions are more your preference, you could start fortnightly sessions in March and renew in the financial year. Speak to your counsellor or the organisation that provides your counselling to see what options might work best for you.

(Image from Unsplash by Toa Heftiba)

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