8 Ways to Make the Most of Counseling

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” ~ Paul Romer

You’ve taken the step to schedule your first appointment with a psychotherapist or a counselor. However, you are nervous and worried you may not know what to do when you get there.

You have all these thoughts running through your head, like”Will they judge me? Will it really help?” You consider cancelling the appointment, but you’re in a crisis or trying to prevent a crisis. In the end, you decide you are going even though you are nervous.

Each counselor has a little different approach and personality. So once you find a counselor that is a good match for you, I know you want to get the most out of your investment in time and money. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of the counseling experience once you get started.

Tip #1: Be Honest

You have nothing to lose by being honest. The counselor works under strict client-therapist confidentiality laws to keep everything you discuss completely private (unless you are a danger to yourself or others). Tell them about yourself and be as open as you can about your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Most therapists aren’t in this business to judge you, but to lend a hand by guiding and coaching you to greater clarity and mastery of your goals.

Tip #2: Identify Counseling Goals

Know what goals you’d like to work on in counseling. While counselors’ specialties vary, your goals can include the following areas: emotional, relational, behavioral, health, career, or work. Identifying your goals will help you focus what you most want to talk about in your sessions, and it will help you talk about progress toward your goals as you move forward.

Tip #3: Keep a Counseling Journal

Often counselors ask questions in session that you may not have the answer to, but you want to reflect on it later. Decide if you want to use a password-protected file on your phone or a paper journal to record your counseling goals, reflections, attempts, and progress. It’s just as important to focus on problems as it is progress. Keeping a personal record of your emotional and relational goals and reflections will help increase your focus, motivation, and self-awareness.

Tip #4: Prepare for Sessions

Get your journal or notebook out before your session and reflect on what you’ve been working on, thinking about, or stuck on. Write down any questions you have or any topics you want to focus on in the next session, so you can start the session focused on what’s most important to you. Thinking space can be challenging to carve out these days with the demands of every day life, but it will help you make the most of your time in session.

Tip #5: Speak Up Before End

Speak up if you are ever thinking about ending counseling, whether it’s due to making progress, financial challenges, or personality clashes. Let the counselor know that you are done for now, so you can have time to summarize and celebrate all your hard work. Or if the counseling isn’t going well for you and you feel stuck, speak up about this too. Even if you are confused or hurt by something that was said in session, it’s good practice for being open about difficult topics. If the counselor-client isn’t a good match, this gives the therapist an opportunity to offer other options.

Tip #6: Own Your Progress

In a crisis, we often want relief as soon as possible and feel like we’ve run out of options. When a person feels really uncomfortable, they may put pressure on a helping or medical professional to fix them. Pressuring the therapist to fix you will leave you feeling more hopeless and frustrated. And getting advice can rob you of the opportunity to find your own solutions and develop more confidence when faced with challenges. Instead of pressuring the therapist, own your problem and your progress, and collaborate with your helping professional.

Tip #7: Keep Counseling Private

Establish boundaries around your therapy sessions. Wait to share what you are working on in counseling until you are starting to make progress. Also resist the urge to use the therapist’s expert opinion to speak up to loved ones. Instead work on defining yourself to your loved ones, not leaning on your therapist to speak for you. It’s very different to say what you are going to do vs what your therapist thinks you should do. Letting the expert prop you up blocks confidence, empowerment, and intimacy from growing.

Tip #8: Try Mental Health Prevention

Lastly, you don’t have to wait until there is a crisis to come to counseling. While a crisis is motivating and a time where patterns are more easily observed, you can also attend counseling before your marriage or emotions are at a crisis point. Many people come to counseling to receive coaching on personal or relationship growth goals. Others continue counseling on an as needed basis to help maintain changes they’ve made. Counselors don’t just offer diagnoses and treatment plans, it’s a place to gather clarity, stay motivated, receive encouragement and a new perspective.

“A crisis is like a low tide at the ocean. When the ocean recedes you can walk far out of the sand and see all manner of debris littering the ocean floor; but you also spot the occasional treasure – a pristine, glimmering shell buried in the sand.” ~Lynn Grodzki

What questions do you have for me about how you can make counseling work for you?

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Turn your challenges into opportunities for growth and intimacy and schedule an appointment with Marci in Kansas City MO area or online either via “Skype” or Talkspace.

Adapting to Death in the Family

I am often asked how to grieve when someone dies in their family. Most people want to get through the grief process as fast as possible, because of the great deal of emotional pain that you experience when a relationship ends. Some individuals want to express all the emotions they are experiencing in hopes that they will get through their grief faster. And others try to distract their self from the pain or deny the loss’ impact on their family.

While I think it’s important to explore how the individual adapts to the loss of having this person in their life, it is just as important to explore how the family as a whole deals with the loss. Families vary in their ability to manage stressful events and emotionality.

Some losses have profound impact on how a family functions day to day, like in the death of parent in a young family. As anxiety increases in the family about future loss, heightened stress, and leadership changes, how does one get comfortable enough to explore and learn from these changes in the family?

Dr. Anne McKnight, Director of the Bowen Center for the Family, shares a different way of looking at death in the family beyond how one individual is coping. Dr. McKnight shares that the “death of an individual changes how a family operates.” To hear the 30-minute interview with Dr. Anne McKnight on how a family reacts and reorganizes itself after the death of a loved one, watch this:

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While families vary in their ability to deal with stress, changes, and emotionality, the death can have a ripple effect for years to come. Prior to the loss, a family may have dealt with a stressor or symptom calmly, but now the family may be on high alert for future real or perceived threats.

The more aware one is that the death is having an impact on how they deal with everyday stressors, the more choices it opens up for how one adapts and moves forward. Awareness can also bring opportunities when a person felt stuck prior to the loss. For some, it is a natural time to re-evaluate their life, relationships, and goals.

So there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve, just what works for you while taking a look at the whole picture. As you and your family try to adapt to the loss, it’s important to consider the role of the deceased person before their death and how the family deals with the relationship disruption over time. It’s natural to want to prevent loss and disruptions, just as it is to try to deal with the challenges we are dealt throughout life.

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Subscribe to Family Matters on You Tube to hear more thoughtful interviews. The mission of the Bowen Center is “to assist families in solving major life problems through understanding and improving human relationships.”

And if you would like to explore how you and your family are adapting to the emotional wave of death of a loved one, you can schedule an appointment with Marci in Kansas City MO area or online either via “Skype” or Talkspace.

5 Focusing Skills for Managing Worry

Humans are the only ones who can turn the stress response on by imagining threatening situations in our minds. When you worry, you are believing the “what if’s” that you tell yourself. Your fear response is activated as if there is real danger. If you were in danger the stress response would help you get out of danger. But without a real threat to deal with, you are left with excess nervous energy and nowhere to put it.

When anxiety is high, you can literally feel like you want to crawl out of your skin. So it’s understandable that most people want to avoid feeling anxious or things that trigger anxiety. In the long run, avoidance reinforces your fear that you can’t handle the situation. Unfortunately, the worry becomes more set in and your self-confidence lowers.

Imagine you are already worried whether or not someone likes you at a dinner party, and you try to get completely calm before going to the party. Or you avoid going to the party so you can calm your worry. Either way feeling allergic to the anxious feelings and sensations can add to the original worry over time.

“We’ve inherited a lifetime of challenges, it’s not about avoiding it, it’s about finding a way to manage it, and going as far as you can with it.” ~Murray Bowen, MD

So how do you carry on in spite of your fear fantasies when all you want to do is run away from your worry? Most people want to try to calm down first, but that can make you feel anxious about being anxious.By focusing more on your thinking and choices, you can turn nervous feelings into useful energy.

How to Manage Worry with 5 Focusing Skills

Are you are tired of letting anxiety and worry direct your life or keep you from enjoying life? Here are 5 skills you can practice to show your worry you can carry on in spite of it.

  1. Focus on thinking more than feelings: People can worry about almost anything and be convinced that their worry is true. It’s important to know the difference between your worry (anxiety = what if) and thinking (fact = what is), so you can choose which one you want to think and act on.
  2. Focus on choices more than outcome: We are all motivated to eliminate discomfort or seek pleasure. But sometimes the more we focus on wanting to overcome anxiety, the more the anxiety takes hold. Instead focus on what you want to put your mental energy into: thinking about the fear or thinking about your choices.
  3. Focus on the big picture more than the narrow view: When you worry, you can only see a narrow viewpoint and it’s usually negative. Take a step back and look at the whole picture. Who was involved in the problem you are worried about and what part did they play? Or would anyone be anxious about this stressful situation you are experiencing?
  4. Focus on tolerating anxiety more than eliminating anxiety: Focus on how long the anxiety lasts before it passes. While it may feel like you can’t handle the anxious feelings, it will pass. Think about how long you have tolerated the anxious feelings. This will help you access a different part of your brain instead of the alarm center that goes off when feeling anxious.
  5. Focus on goals more than avoidance: It may sound counter-intuitive, but you don’t have to be calm in order to pursue goals. In fact, some anxiety is motivating when we turn it into energy. If the goal is more important than how nervous you feel, then focus on your goal and the steps you will keep taking. Over time, you are proving to  yourself that you can harness the energy to pursue your goal even if anxious.

Practicing these 5 focusing skills when worried will boost your confidence over time that you can face challenges. While you may not ever be symptom free, you can rise to the challenges in life and within your mind. And live in spite of the fears by showing your worry you’re in charge.

If you find these cognitive techniques challenging but useful, it can be helpful to consult an objective person, such as a licensed counselor. Someone that won’t add to the anxiety but can coach you toward the personal growth you so desire.

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Marci offers face-to-face counseling services in the Kansas City, MO area and is available for coaching via Skype. If you are stuck and want some coaching on managing your worry better, Schedule an appointment today.