Effective coping requires acceptance of reality, and a willingness to act within the limits of that reality. Your actions should proceed from a context of humility and sensitivity to others, and you must hold yourself accountable for those actions. In other words, effective coping requires you to “translate” your traits into concrete and productive actions, a process that gives you an anchor to reality. When you have difficulty “translating yourself” into concrete actions, you will feel adrift – that you have nowhere to go. Professional counseling – also called psychotherapy – can help in fostering this translation process.
If you have decided to seek counseling, there are important things to keep in mind:
You must enter counseling with a willingness to work hard to confront and possibly change your thinking and your actions. Many folks fail in counseling because they are unwilling to develop autonomous actions, and to work hard to implement suggestions from the counselor.
Be patient. No one can wave a magic wand and suddenly change you. Do not expect a quick fix. That being said, however, if you see a counselor for more than six months without any noticeable change in what’s troubling you, find another counselor.
Be wary of a counselor who sees overly simplistic reasons for your problems – “Ah, your problem is sibling rivalry” – and who presents a simple, effortless plan for solving them – “I would stop all contact with your sister for a while.”
A treatment plan should be straightforward, agreeable to you, and include specific and realistic goals that are manageable and under your control, but attainable only with motivation and work on your part. Your treatment plan should also include feedback provisions that allow you to assess your movement toward your goals
When choosing counseling, it helps to be optimistic and believe that your decision will benefit you. Furthermore, you should choose a provider who has characteristics that facilitate optimism; most people profit from counselor traits like empathy, warmth and genuineness.
Remember that there is a difference between psychiatrists (medical orientation) and psychologists (cognitive/behavioral orientation), and that they perform the services they are trained to do. Most psychiatrists will prescribe psychiatric medication for you, but you may not care to go down that road. For instance, if you are overly anxious about your son who is in legal trouble, you may prefer to receive advice from a psychologist stressing coping strategies instead of receiving anti-anxiety medication from a psychiatrist.
At the outset of counseling, expect and ask for a complete psychological assessment.After thoroughly discussing the results be prepared to work at changing your patterns of thinking and acting that engage your conflicts and difficulties. If psychiatric medication is part of your treatment plan, consider working with both a psychiatrist and psychologist because the combination of counseling and medication – when needed – is more powerful than either treatment alone.
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. Do the “right” things, acting ethically and with integrity. 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. Remember, you are not in this world to live up to others’ expectations.
Keep in mind that you are an active partner in the counseling process, not a passive, dependent onlooker. You are an expert about your life, and only you can decide if you are living it in a way that brings you satisfaction.