Effective coping requires honest self-discovery and awareness of your strengths and vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, if you don’t work at translating that awareness into productive actions, you will have no anchor to reality. For some people, professional counseling, also called psychotherapy, can help in fostering the translation.

If you have decided to seek professional counseling, which may or may not involve taking psychiatric medications, there are a variety of actions you can take to prepare yourself and increase the likelihood of success. First, however, understand that you should enter counseling with a willingness to work hard to adjust your thinking and your actions. No one can wave a magic wand and change you; a counselor can make suggestions but in the final analysis, it is you who must do the work to produce improvement.

Also, remember that you want the counselor to provide straightforward, uncomplicated, easy to understand suggestions about your problems. Be wary of overly simplistic – that is, naive – explanations of your psychological problems (“You get angry too easily”; “You have an anxiety disorder.”), and a simplistic treatment plan (“You should take an anger management class”; “Get a dog.”).

When seeking counseling, it is important that you believe your decision to seek help will benefit you. That belief will be strengthened if you choose a provider who has trustworthy characteristics that make you comfortable. They can vary from client to client, but most people profit from counselors who are honest, sincere, warm, supportive, challenging, and who show empathy.

Always choose a licensed provider, and remember that there is a difference between psychiatrists – a medical doctor who can prescribe medication – and psychologists and counselors, who are trained in therapy techniques. These professionals perform the services they are trained to do. Most psychiatrists, for instance, will prescribe psychiatric medication for you, but you may not want – or need – to go down that road. For instance, perhaps you can’t sleep because you are anxious about your teenager who is in legal trouble. Medication may help you sleep, but it won’t provide you with a coping plan.

At the outset of counseling, you should receive a complete psychological assessment from a licensed psychologist or licensed counselor. After thoroughly discussing the results the provider may recommend that psychiatric medication be a part of your treatment plan. In this case, you should work with both a psychiatrist and psychologist because the combination of counseling and medications is more powerful than either treatment alone.

To increase the odds of successful counseling, here are some basic rules to keep in mind:

*If you are looking for a quick fix, whether a pill or some special technique, you are wasting your time.

*If you see a provider for more than six months without any noticeable change in your attitude or outlook, find another provider.

*Set specific and realistic goals that are manageable and under your control. These goals should be stated objectively to allow you to know when you are moving toward them.

*Break your issues down and address them one at a time. Do not overwhelm yourself with several treatment goals all at once.

*Begin with simple goals so you can experience success and begin to develop feelings of personal empowerment.

*Keep a daily written record of your actions and feelings, including the situations in which they occur.

*When you fail, do not dwell on the failure but examine what can be changed. The difficulty of the task, for instance, cannot be changed, but your preparation and effort can be.

*Focus on actions that bring you satisfaction. Act ethically and with integrity.

*Supplement your treatment with friends who treat you with respect, consideration, honesty, and fairness.

*Identify and challenge any irrational, self-defeating thoughts you have about needing to be some perfect “super-person” who is good at everything and loved by everyone. You are not in this world to live up to others’ expectations.

*Keep in mind that you are the one true expert about your life, and only you can decide if you are living it in a way that brings you satisfaction.


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