Changes In Perception During Counseling
I had a friend recently ask me if there were any commonalities in how clients perceive counseling sessions as they progress, and I didn’t have to think too hard about it because most go through the same basic sequence of stages. If you are currently in counseling or considering going it will be useful for you to become aware of some of these stages so that when you’re feeling the same way you can remember to question whether your perception represents objective reality.
The first stage is euphoria, what we might call pseudo-cure. People feel much better about their situations even though they haven’t done anything to change these situations. But the very act of deciding to get outside help and of having a supportive, knowledgeable professional listen carefully to what they’re saying, providing some insight on what is going on, usually produces a lot of positive feelings. They go out into the world with a renewed sense of efficacy and their problems seem more manageable.
But of course these illusions are shattered before too long. After the first few sessions clients tend to move their thinking to the opposite extreme, believing they are doing much worse than they were doing before, wondering if they’re ever going to see any results. One of the main reasons why is that with increased insight comes increased awareness about all the various problem areas. When tunnel vision is replaced with a wider view, all of a sudden issues pop up that didn’t exist in conscious awareness before, and all these issues start to feel insurmountable. So it seems like things are worse even though objectively speaking things are getting better, progress is being made in many areas and healthier ways of relating to the world are being implemented.
Finally after a lot of hard work situations usually do improve. As clients move closer to terminating the therapeutic relationship they feel tempted to place most of the responsibility for their improvement on the shoulders of the counselor. It should be noted that earlier on they are also tempted to place the responsibility for the fact that they’re supposedly not getting better on the shoulders of the counselor too. But it’s their hard work all along that leads to change. The counselor can only be a guide in this process, it’s the clients who have to scale the mountain themselves, and they deserve to take pride in and feel responsible for the changes they have made in their own lives.
Just raising your awareness about how common these stages are will better prepare you for going through them yourself, so that you can keep pushing forward, both at first when you feel like you’ve been cured even though nothing has happened and later on when you feel like you’re getting worse even though you’re getting better. Finally you can remember that when all is said and done you are the one who did the heavy lifting, the one who had the courage to face the truth of your situation and then implement the difficult but necessary changes to improve it, and you’re the one who deserves to take the responsibility for your improvement.