How to Get the Most Out of Seeing an Addictions Counsellor
1. Be as honest as you can about your addiction experiences
When you begin seeing a counsellor, it's like any new relationship - it can be awkward or uncomfortable to be completely honest about parts of your life or behaviour that you're not proud of, especially when you first meet. A good addictions counsellor will do their best to help you feel comfortable and safe enough to share your experiences and be honest, while also understanding that it may take a bit of time. For some people, talking to an addictions counsellor is the first time they've ever fully and honestly shared their experiences with drugs, alcohol, gambling or other addictive behaviours.
Many years ago, a counsellor I was seeing said to me "Amber, you have to suck the poison out of a wound before it can heal". This is the power of honesty - even though it might feel tough, often it's the beginning of change and healing.
This doesn't mean you need to share things that are so painful or frightening that you feel worse afterwards. For example, sharing all the details of something like an assault or abuse may not feel safe, and that's okay. If you're unsure, it's a good idea to talk to your counsellor about ways to keep you safe while also practicing honesty.
2. Be as honest as you can about relapses
Relapses are normal part of recovery from an addiction, and if you're working with an experienced addictions counsellor, there's nothing they haven't heard before. So if you've had a relapse, the best thing you can do is talk about it. You might have a tonne of feelings about having to tell your counsellor you've had a relapse - sad, disappointed, embarrassed, angry, frustrated, or all of the above and more. However, the best thing about talking about your relapses is you get the opportunity to learn from them - something that is really hard to do if you're stuck in the shame that often comes along with them. My clients frequently tell me that even though it can be difficult to talk about a relapse, the enormous relief they feel afterwards is worth it, and the insight from talking it through is a huge support to their learning and recovery.
3. Be as honest as you can about your experience of counselling and your counsellor
Are you struggling with an aspect of counselling? Did your counsellor say or do something that you're unsure about? The best way to resolve it is to say something. For some people, it might feel difficult to question or challenge a counsellor, which is completely normal. You might feel worried, embarrassed or uncertain about bringing something up. Of course, counsellors are human and will make mistakes, but a good addictions counsellor will be able to listen to your concerns, questions or comments and have a frank, respectful conversation with you. It's your right to get the absolute best out of your sessions, and if you don't feel you are, talking about it can help.
I'm not saying you should nitpick or criticise your counsellor, but being up front and clear about what isn't working for you is really important for your counselling sessions, as well as your general recovery. I recently had a client tell me they get frustrated when I say "Does that make sense?" (I say it a lot!) The client explained that when I said it, they imagined I thought they were stupid. This led to a wonderful discussion about the clients core beliefs about thinking they were stupid, being told they were stupid when they were young, and how this affects their addiction behaviours and recovery. The clients honesty about their experience in our counselling session was the catalyst for great change in their outside life. (Note: my client gave their permission for me to share this story here.)
3. Arrive on time and attend counselling regularly
This seems pretty obvious, but for some people, going to sessions consistently and on time can be a challenge. Often when we aren't totally ready for change or recovery, we unknowingly or subconciously resist in different ways, and this can be one of them. The great advantage of having a regular session at the same time and day is that it becomes built in to your life - you know that every Tuesday at 10am is your time to see your counsellor. I'm not in the habit of making guarantees, but I guarantee this: if you chop and change appointments, don't turn up, miss sessions or arrive late, you are ripping yourself off and making your recovery harder. Recovery from an addictive behaviour can be tricky - being consistent and committed to your counselling sessions is one of the best ways to support yourself.
4. Put in the work between sessions
If you have committed to working on something between sessions, make sure you follow through. It might be going to 12-step meetings, doing recovery work at home, attending a self-care class like yoga, or checking-in with a trusted friend in recovery. Of course there's a balance to be struck; you still have to do everything else that your life requires of you and it's normal to get busy or distracted. However, you can support your progress in counselling by making realistic and achievable goals with your counsellor about what you can do between sessions and stick to it as much as possible.
If you have any questions about getting the most out addictions counselling, or would like more information, you're welcome to get in touch with me.
Until next time,
The content of this blog is based on our counsellors' academic and clinical experience, but does not constitute therapeutic advice. This blog is intended as general information about counselling, psychotherapy, addictions and mental health issues only. For specific treatment related to you or someone you know, please contact us via www.sydneyaddictionsrecovery.com to discuss your needs.