Five Ways to Maximize Your Counseling
*Photography by: Jeremiah Wilson
On any given day you can find me sitting in my blue leather chair while someone sits on my cozy blue couch.
I make sure the Kleenex box is always replenished and I have a soft blue blanket that holds many a snotty tear. No, I am not a weird human with an affixation to the color blue, I am a counselor. I consider it to be the greatest honor to hold stories, space and hope for women as they walk the courageous journey back towards their truest, most authentic selves.
Let’s all be honest and confess counseling is hard, expensive, costly work. There’s just no way around it. If you are one of the brave souls who makes her way to a counseling appointment on a consistent basis, first I want to say, “you’re doing good, good work.” Just showing up is half the battle and even though I know I’m biased, I consider good, whole-hearted therapy one of the best investments you can make in your future.
Because therapy is expensive and us ladies are working hard to get our dollar as far as possible, I want to share five ways that you can maximize your time in counseling. These are small, totally doable steps that you can implement into your week to get the biggest bang for your buck and ultimately create more space in your life to live from a place of wholeness, integration, and authenticity!
One. Create a routine around your counseling appointments
For about two years, I had a standing appointment on Mondays at 4 pm for counseling. I’d pop out of work a few minutes early and spend the next hour with my counselor. I made a point to leave the rest of the evening open to give myself quiet space. Some days that meant coming home to journal about what had just come up, some days it meant calling a friend, and other days it meant going on a long, slow walk by myself. Creating a routine around your counseling appointments will allow your heart and your mind to enter into a rhythm of safety, calmness, and introspection to do the hard work of healing.
Two. Journal. Journal. Journal.
Did you know that when you write you actually access different parts of your brain than you do when you’re just talking? It’s pretty wild but true! Because a large part of counseling is talking about your family of origin (simply meaning your immediate family you grew up with), the relational dynamics created in your home, and stories of harm and hurt, writing is going to help trigger even more of those memories to come back up for you to process them and integrate them into your story. Not only that, but writing also helps to slow us down. We write slower than we think and just that slowness can help to give us greater clarity and insight into things that may be blocking us from living fully today.
Three. Ask your counselor for a reading list. Get a library card. Read.
You may have heard your counselor talk about things like codependency, attachment styles, boundaries, and inner child work. You may smile and nod like you know what they are talking about when in fact, you have no idea. Good news, there are about a million and one books on all of those topics to help you dig into those concepts and fully digest them on your own time. (Side note: If you’re guilty of the smile and nod, maybe consider telling your counselor the truth and asking for more clarification. Part of your work may, in fact, be as simple as learning to ask for help. There is literally no safer place than to try it out with your counselor.) Most counselors are pretty voracious readers because new research is always coming out in our field. Make time to ask your counselor for a reading list that he or she thinks you could benefit from reading more material on.
And because I haven’t forgotten about that budget of yours, I’d like to remind you of the glory that is your public library. You may not have visited one since you were in elementary school and you may be really good at clicking the purchase button on Amazon, but I’m telling you there is a wealth of free resources for you, likely only a few blocks away! Now you can even rent audio books and e-books, so no excuses not to get your self-help reading game on!
Four. Go to support meetings
I would like to introduce you to the anonymous world of support meetings. You may be familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, but are you familiar with Codependency Anonymous, Adult Child of an Alcoholic Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous? Those may sound like big, scary words, but essentially, every meeting is a place for you to show up and openly admit you don’t have it all together and you can’t go on pretending any longer. These meetings are free resources that are happening at all hours of the day, all over the globe, literally. To sit in the midst of other humans being utterly honest and transparent about their struggles is incredibly humbling and freeing. It allows me the space to tell my whole, messy truth too.
Five. Surround yourself with safe people
Relationships are integral to a healthy, whole soul. I share with my clients that it was relationships that hurt and wounded us and it will also be relationships that heal and restore us. While your counselor is likely a safe person for you, it’s helpful to remember the goal of counseling is ultimately to get you to a place where you no longer need that specific type of support. Needing support is never going to be a need you or I grow out of. You want to make sure you are surrounded with people who inspire you, challenge you, and hold your secrets and stories with integrity.
Some of the most healing experiences I can recall are when I came home after counseling and was able to share my secrets with my one of my closest friends. Letting her into the most shame-filled corners of my heart and experiencing full, unconditional acceptance from her was transformative, to say the least.
Counseling is not for the faint hearted.
And if you find yourself in the work of engaging with the story of your life and recovering your heart, I bow to you and honor your good and holy work. You are worth the pain and the tears and the wrestling. Honor the questions of your heart, give yourself permission to be exactly where you are, and hold space for the truth that you are worthy of love and belonging.
Peace and care to you on your journey back to your glorious heart!
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Blake Blankenbecler lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and many plant babies. As a recovering people pleaser, she is a fierce advocate for self-care and kindness. Blake is a counselor specializing in women’s identity issues, trauma/abuse, eating disorders, and spirituality. You can find more of her words, stories, questions, and self-care practices over on her website and Instagram!