Guide on Individual Counseling
There was a time when counseling was associated with those who have extreme mental and psychological problems. If someone is so problematic to the point of depression, they are advised to sign up for counseling.
But times have changed, and the perception on the concept has certainly evolved as well. In fact, it is no longer uncommon to see companies and large corporations integrating counseling in their employee or workforce welfare programs. Yes, counseling has become a part of corporate culture, and more and more people are now recognizing the benefits that counseling can provide.
This guide walks you through 1) what counseling is, 2) common misconceptions about counseling, 3) what is individual counseling, and 4) tips on how to make the most out of individual counseling.
There are so many definitions of counseling floating around, some more complicated than others. It was described by Burks and Steffire as a way to “help clients understand and clarify their views of their lifespace, and to learn to reach their self-determined goals through meaningful, well-informed choices and through resolution or problems of an emotional or interpersonal nature”.
Feltham and Dryden further added to that, describing counseling as a “relationship characterized by the application of psychological theories and a recognized set of communication skills”. The American Counseling Association gave a clearer definition when it said that counseling is a “professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.”
In simpler terms, counseling has been defined as the act of offering or providing clients with advice which will, in turn, be used as a guide in making important decisions. The advice is offered by professionals known as counselors in a counseling session or meeting agreed upon by both parties. It used to be that people resort to counseling because there is a problem that needs to be solved, and that they may come across the solution to that problem while speaking with their counselors.
These days, there doesn’t have to be a pressing problem that needs to be solved before a client approaches a counselor. Counseling can be undertaken even if there is no problem that needs an immediate solution.
In order to recognize the importance of counseling, it would be a good idea to take a look at the results that can be achieved from counseling.
- The client becomes more self-aware, gaining deeper insight of herself. This understanding promotes greater self-acceptance and appreciation, thus encouraging her to further improve on her strengths and good points, and change for the better where necessary.
- The client’s set of values and beliefs, which were thought to be permanent and set in stone, are challenged and become more open to change. This makes more room for flexibility, allowing the client to be more adaptable and adjustable to change. As a result, the person is more open to changing her way of thinking, behaving and feeling.
- Along with self-awareness, the client also becomes more aware of the people around her. She gains a better understanding of other people – why they do what they do, what motivates them and what is important to them. This increased sensitivity and understanding paves the way towards building and maintaining stronger relationships.
- The client will be empowered to set goals and go about accomplishing them. Counseling helps them gain clarity and urge them to come up with strategies and ideas that will let them achieve their goals.
- The client’s health will also benefit. Many claim that, after counseling sessions, they feel significantly lighter, and their stress levels significantly reduced.
- The client obtains the opportunity to make amends for past wrongs that she has committed, or forgive wrongs done by others against her. Again, this will promote goodwill among people, and the client will have improved relations with others.
Learn more about the general counselling process from this video.
Counseling has been proven to be most effective for individuals who are dealing with any of the following:
- Addiction and abuse (alcohol, drugs, and other vices)
- Adjustment issues (moving to a new place, starting a new job or at a new school)
- Depression and anxiety
- Eating disorders
- Gender identity
- Grief over losses (death, relationship breakups, bankruptcy)
- Physical abuse and trauma
- Relationship problems (with family, friends, workmates)
From the list above, one would conclude that clients who seek counseling are those who undergo extreme circumstances. However, that is no longer the case, as counseling can also be sought by those who do not have what most people would refer to as “big” problems.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT COUNSELING
Before we go any further, let us first address some mistaken notions about what counseling really is.
#1 Counseling tells you what decisions to make.
It’s true that counseling involves the provision of advice. However, this advice is only offered as a form of guidance. At the end of the day, it is the client who will make the decision, basing on the realizations arrived to as a result of the guidance offered during counseling.
#2 Counseling will sort out all your problems.
Again, counseling is not a solution. Rather, it is a means to arrive at a solution. Do not expect to have your problems worked out if you spend time with a professional counselor, and do not go to a counselor fully expecting him to hand out solutions for your problems.
#3 Counseling works in the same way for everyone.
Counseling does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. Any professional counselor would tell you that there different circumstances being experienced by different clients. This means there has to be different approaches towards solving each one of them. It’s actually very rare to find two clients facing the exact same problems.
Counseling comes in many different types and forms, depending on several factors. They can be differentiated as to the reason or purpose of counseling, such as career counseling, grief counseling, couples counseling and family counseling. When it comes to the mode of delivery or method of execution, we can classify them as either face-to-face sessions, sessions conducted over the telephone or via other forms of correspondence.
However, the most common classification would be whether it is done in groups or one-on-one.
Individual vs. Group Counseling
As the phrase implies, group counseling involves a group or people faced with the same or similar issues. They will put their heads together and work together to tackle those issues. A classic example would be group counseling for recovering alcoholics. In some cases, couples in the middle of divorce or a child custody dispute are also likely to undergo group counseling, working under the assumption that there is strength in numbers. Family counseling also falls under the group counseling category, since it involves more than one member of the family and the counselor working together to face an issue that affects all of them.
It is different with individual counseling where there are only two people in the room: the counselor and the client. The focus is the individual – his concerns, his issues, and his goals. It involves one-on-one dialogues between the client and the counselor, and they take on the role of partners.
The decision on whether to choose group counseling or individual counseling will largely depend on the preference of the client, and the nature of the problem or issues that he or she is facing.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Individual Counseling
Some prefer individual counseling more than group counseling and vice versa, and there are a lot of factors affecting that preference. The reasons for this may be determined once we have identified the advantages of individual counseling.
+ Individual counseling guarantees confidentiality. Confidentiality is an essential element of counseling. Professional counselors are just like medical practitioners in the sense that they, too, are bound by patient-doctor confidentiality terms. They are not supposed to divulge any information shared by their clients with them. In one-on-one counseling sessions, there is a greater assurance that any information shared by the client will remain between the two of them. This is not something that is guaranteed in a group counseling session, considering that there are other people, besides you and the counselor, who will also be privy to everything that will be discussed during the session.
+ Individual counseling is more flexible. Counselors have different approaches in conducting these therapy sessions. If there is only one client, it will be easier to tailor the approach in a way that is most suitable for the client, unlike in a group setting, where you have to consider more than one person. Counselors will find more freedom in the individual setup, since they can work on isolated issues as they see fit.
+ Individual counseling ensures focused attention of the counselor. There is only one client, so the counselor’s full attention will be on that client for the duration of their scheduled counseling session.
+ Individual counseling allows clients to be comfortable. There are many people who are not comfortable talking about their personal problems in groups, even if the other people in the group are already known to them. The tendency of this discomfort is that they won’t be able to open up fully during counseling and they will tend to withhold some information. When it is just the client and the counselor, with no one else listening in and probably judging, these people will be able to express themselves more fully and comfortably.
Of course, it would not be fair not to consider the disadvantages of individual counseling.
– There is a high risk of getting too personal or emotionally involved. Remember that there is only the counselor and the client working together. There is a risk that the client will end up relying greatly on the counselor and developing an emotional attachment to her, and vice versa. This could be a potential problem when it comes to objectivity in making decisions.
– The results are too focused on one person only: the client. Since the client is the one sharing experiences, her input is the only one that will be taken into consideration during the discussion. Others are excluded. For example, if an individual who is undergoing relationship trouble with a spouse decided to undergo individual counseling, the issues are tackled without the input or point-of-view of the other person involved in the relationship. As a result, the decision that will be made at the end is likely to be a bit one-sided.
– Counselors may have limited knowledge. There is a possibility that the counselor does not have prior knowledge or experience about an issue that is being dealt with by the client. If they were in a group setting, the counselor can derive input from other people with similar situations in the group and make deductions from there. As it is, there is no one else in an individual counseling setting, so this limitation comes up strongly.
TIPS ON UNDERGOING INDIVIDUAL COUNSELING
Be prepared. Physically, mentally, and psychologically.
When you sign up for counseling, expect that you will be sharing a bit of yourself. You may even end up baring your soul. For many people, this is a difficult thing to do, which is why there is a need for mental preparation. You have to be prepared to expose yourself to another person, who may even be a complete stranger prior to your first meeting as counselor and client.
You should also be ready for your beliefs, values, and preconceptions to be challenged. And they will be, so make sure you are prepared for it. Counseling also involves tapping into one’s emotions, so be prepared to express your emotions. This may be especially difficult for individuals with closed-off personalities and introverts who do not express themselves openly. But if you are determined to make a success out of your individual counseling, then you should make an effort at this.
Know what you need.
From the beginning, you have to be fully aware of the problem that you want help with. You have to be clear on your goals in undergoing counseling and spending money on it. What do you want to accomplish? What do you expect from the counselor? What will it take for the counseling session to be a success?
Knowing this will give you a push in the right direction. Always keep your eye on that goal so you can move directly towards it.
Find a good counselor or therapist.
Make sure that the person who will be your counselor is someone you can trust. Look into her:
- Qualifications. Look into the basics, such as educational credentials and certifications.
- Reputation. Tap into her professional circles and see whether she has had any problems with clients before, especially concerning confidentiality.
- Track record. You should also look into who her other clients are, both in the past and the present. You may even ask other clients how she is as a counselor.
Do not hesitate to ask questions; that is your right. If, during the first meeting, you do not feel comfortable with the counselor, it is your prerogative to keep looking for another one. Do not force yourself. Besides, keep in mind that, in order for the counseling therapy to be successful, you have to be able to build rapport with your counselor. If the signs point to the opposite direction, don’t hesitate to look for someone else.
Keep an open mind.
This may be difficult for many, but at least try. You enter counseling to hear what you are supposed to, not what you want to. Going in, you are assumed to be in a state of readiness to hear and face truths that may hurt you or may be hard for you to accept. That is part of counseling.
Along with keeping an open mind, you have to learn to adapt some willingness – willingness to effect changes, willingness to adapt, and willingness to accept that, perhaps, you were wrong about something.
Counseling is a process, which means there are steps or progressions. You cannot expect results or changes overnight, no matter how much you wish for it. A single two-hour counseling session may pass by without any tangible results. Again, there is no definite period or number of hours for an issue to be resolved. You need to be patient and give time for the results to show up.
You also have to know that counseling can go from a few weeks to several years, depending on the nature of the counseling or the specific need of the client. You also have to be prepared to undergo counseling for an indefinite period, if necessary.
Make that call. Set up that appointment.
This is probably the most difficult step – the first one. You have been contemplating going to counseling for a problem that has been bugging you for a long time, giving you sleepless nights and restless days, and draining energy out of your lifein general. You might also apprehensive about talking to a stranger about your problems. Or you could be having some doubts about whether the session will be able to help you in the long run or not. Maybe you have trust issues, because what if others find out that you are seeing a counselor and undergoing therapy?
Get over these fears. Face the fact that you have issues and problems, and that you need help, and you need it RIGHT NOW. Call up the counselor that you have researched thoroughly on and set that appointment. Once you do, make sure that you keep it.