Author: Kyle McClain, MA | LPC
Counseling isn’t something any of us will schedule “for the fun of it”. And yes, many moments in counseling are hard and may feel like you have been run through an emotional gauntlet. However, if someone is struggling with an emotional issue, a marriage, anxiety, etc., we want you to give it a try. We realize this is a big ask. Asking someone to go to a complete stranger and discuss personal issues, bring up emotionally tough memories or trust that someone is not going to judge you or make you “the bad guy” in a relationship is not a small ask. If you have never been to a therapist, you likely do not know what to expect. What are the rules of engagement? How does it start? How much do I tell them? What if I don’t like them? What will it look like? If I am anxious NOW then what on Earth will happen encountering all these questions before I even meet with the therapist?
Clients entering into a therapeutic relationship with a counselor/therapist are at a disadvantage, it is true. Therapists get to go to school and learn how to do their job. They get to study, learn how to interact, know the ethics and rules of therapy and get to have the home office advantage. However, it is important for clients to know that they have control in this new relationship. Clients get to say “yes" to coming, they get to say “yes, let’s continue with counseling", and they get to say “no, I am not ready to discuss that…”. That may seem like a surprise but clients CAN tell a therapist, “No”. Clients should have boundaries with a therapist and the therapist should be aware of those boundaries. The therapist and the client should also discuss openly when those boundaries are being utilized so that both the client and the therapist are aware of what is happening in the discussion. Like any relationship, boundaries are important and if not honored, they can be harmful to the individual or the relationship. BUT, in a healthy relationship those boundaries are identified and discussed.
Also, in a healthy relationship some boundaries can be challenged. Challenging boundaries is a natural part of a relationship. Challenging does not mean ignoring and does not mean over-ruling the boundary. Challenging is when the boundaries are discussed openly to ensure that they are necessary, given the particular subject or moment. If those boundaries are challenged and defended both parties are should respect the boundary. Other moments the boundaries will be challenged and possibly restructured or allowed to be flexible for that particular subject or moment. Being openly discussed is the respect that allows boundaries to be better understood and honored. So yes, clients have control.
Let’s be honest. You may not connect with a counselor right away, or you may think it doesn’t feel like a connection. Those are perfectly legitimate vibes that most of us need in order to move forward in any relationship. We encourage clients to trust that vibe BUT also discuss that vibe with the counselor. Communicating about the therapeutic relationship is great practice for communicating in other relationships. The therapist is a professional and should be open to these types of conversations in order to better help the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process. If it is not a good fit then the client should terminate with that therapist and seek out another. The choice of picking a good fit is like picking out a car. There are a lot of styles out there but all of them want to get you from point A to point B. A single guy doesn’t necessarily want or need a minivan, and a family of five doesn’t need a two-seater sports car. Sometimes you have to test drive a couple of options before you know it is the right fit. Sometimes, you find the car that fits, but then it stops working for whatever reason. No one should feel obligated to remain in a broken car so looking for a new one is a necessity at times.
First experiences aren’t always easy, but if you feel that you are ready for a change,
go kick some tires, take a test drive and look for the right fit. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable as they travel through life.