How Should Mental Health Counselors Conduct Counseling Sessions?
Going to counseling sessions or therapy can be nerve-wracking the first time. The uncertainty of going to therapy, the feeling of being judged, and the fear of revisiting embarrassing or bad experiences may contribute to nervousness and anxiety. This is understandable because we share things that are extremely personal to us with counselors.
And from the counselors’ point of view, they have to consult and help all sorts of personalities from people with mental health issues and disorders. To achieve fair and ethical counseling at all levels, the counselors must follow all the critical processes of the craft, implement all the ethical guidelines, and carry forward a session with a sense of neutrality.
Generally, amateur counselors at the beginning of their careers could make rookie mistakes when dealing with their clients. They may fail to identify the personality traits of a client or may be misled by their self-beliefs. But if they don’t master the craft soon enough, they may fail to realize that the implications of wrong counseling practices are severe.
In this piece, we will go through what makes a good counseling session and how a counselor can establish a basic system of counseling.
We will first discuss what is counseling and what it isn’t. In counseling, the role of the counselor is to facilitate and provide insights while maintaining the ethics that govern counseling.
What Is Counseling?
Counseling is a structured, collaborative, and confidential method of talk therapy where a trained professional helps to identify the psychological, emotional and mental issues of a client. A counselor’s primary objective is to help a client reach conclusions about their problem/s.
The process addresses all forms of problems, including but not limited to mental health, trauma, addiction and drug abuse, anger management, adjustment problems, grief, and relationship difficulties.
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What Is Not Counseling? Ethical Guidelines for Counsellors/Counselling
Understanding what isn’t counseling helps you identify the genuineness of your counseling experience and helps you get the most out of your session. It also ensures that you get proper management and execution of your problems and solutions, respectively.
These following points may help you in that aspect and are also the ethical guidelines that must be observed by the counselors.
Counseling is not offering advice: We have seen a traditional viewpoint of counseling or therapy in movies in which a middle-aged man or a woman provides advice on what the protagonist should do next. While some form of suggestions in counseling are used, outright suggestions can make a client become dependent on the counselor and might contribute to them recalling false memories.
Being judgemental: A counseling space is a safe space for someone to talk about their difficulties and problems. Even though counselors are trained to analyze verbal and non-verbal cues, they are not taught to judge and assign values to it.
For example, someone might have a tendency to touch their forearms when they are talking about something that bothers them. The counselor first confirms if this is true with the client before forming a judgment on the particular behavior as good or bad.
Getting actively involved: Counseling is not getting involved in the decision making of a client. A counselor will always explore options and how these options would affect the lives of the client in the future. A counselor is not someone that will solve the client’s problem for them.
Non-confidential relationship: A client and the counselor share a relationship unlike any other. As a client, we might share certain things with the counselor that we might not share with the people in our lives. In turn, a counselor will ensure that this relationship of immense trust will prevail so they will not exploit our weaknesses.
For example: As we share our experiences and our past stories with the counselors, some things may come up that we might not want to share with the people around us.
Hence, the counselors should make sure that these confidential facts aren’t leaked from their side. However, when behaviors like self-harm, suicide, and criminality are involved, the counselor will notify the closest guardian of the client in agreement with the client themselves.
The Counseling Process
Understanding what counseling is not, hopefully, paints a picture of what to expect in a counseling session. To make the picture clearer, we will now break down the process to explain how they can accurately help the clients manage their expectations and healing process.
Assessment: Assessment in counseling refers to the process of gaining information about the client by counselors. This helps in identifying the background regarding family history, medical conditions, drugs prescribed, and in some cases, referral forms.
Some practitioners may use intake forms, while others may prefer to ask questions relating to the client’s history.
Identification and assessment of the problem: Here, the first and foremost goal of the counseling session would be to identify problems and how they affect/affected the client on a day to day basis.
During the session, the counselor must make sure that the client is comfortable. After that, the counselor needs to assess the emotional state of the client so that they can be encouraged to express what they are feeling.
Goal setting: In a counseling setting, the relationship between a client and the counselor is always a collaborative one, especially when it comes to goal setting. Research has shown that the collaborative goal-setting approach can have a profound effect on personal recovery.
Intervention: Intervention in counseling refers to the strategies that a counselor might use to help the client cope with their current situation or to help them gain a new perspective.
There are many ways that a counselor might do this, but one of the ways is using challenging questions. This is mostly used to create cognitive dissonance in the client in an attempt to change the client’s perspective on the problem. This might lead to mental discomfort in the beginning but will lead to a change in beliefs or thought patterns in the client.
Other forms of intervention therapy include group therapy, art therapy, and music therapy.
Skills acquisition and consolidation: Here, a client learns to regulate their emotions and behaviors through knowledge and acceptance. The client learns to be their own therapists as they are taught coping behaviors like questioning the validity of their emotions, viewing the problem from a new perspective, and reexamining their thought patterns.
Maintenance: By this time, the counseling session focuses mainly on the skills that a client has learned and what impact they are having in their day to day lives. The counselor now encourages the client to make the skills that they have learned into habits.
Termination and follow-up: Termination of the counseling session does not mean that the client is now cured. They might still have triggers and destructive thought patterns, which might aid in an emotional relapse. This is why follow-ups are necessary.
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Counselors are there to facilitate our mental well-being. Every counselor is different and may not use the same tools as described in this article. However, the counseling process is the same, and these processes serve as a guideline to mental health practitioners on how to structure the recovery process.
While going through this recovery process, we must understand that counselors do not possess a magic wand that will make all our problems go away.
Simply, counselors are there to facilitate the process and help us find a different viewpoint. That’s why counseling should be a place where one can express and not be judged.
If you feel judged and not listened to, make it an option to find another counselor because this will not aid your recovery in any way whatsoever. If this is the case, it is advised to terminate the sessions and opt for another counselor. The counselor also has to maintain all the ethical guidelines to ensure the safety and mental well-being of the client.