The Wizard or The Listener

So over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to wonder about the reasons why people come into counseling with me. I mean let’s face it; you go to counseling for a number of reasons: You want to change something, you want someone to listen to your problems, your wife is ready to kick you out of the house…you know, the usual reasons. And I’m OK with all of those reasons, really. These reasons usually come down to one of two roles: The Wizard or the Listener.

An active therapist is much like a Wizard.  I can’t give you a brain or a heart or courage, but I can help you find them within yourself. They’re there, you just haven’t found them yet. Don’t expect any real magic here. Like Gandalf, who used his magic peacemeal throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’m not some conjurer of cheap tricks…just a guy who has a bit of wisdom to share with you in a way that can help your life in a dynamic way. It feels like magic when the techniques we use together actually work.

A listening therapist is usually one you go to just to dump your issues onto, and that helps you feel better. I like to think I’m a good listener too, but I can’t read minds, like the main character in the NBC show, the Listener. It would be nice to be able to know what you’re thinking, but I can only hope you will be open enough to share with me what is affecting you so that we can work together and help you feel better.

However, I have to say I take issue with some people who come into therapy, specifically to change something, and then expect me, the therapist, to do some sort of wizard magic to change their circumstances. I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with who expect me to give them something more than what they can do themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I give them my best: I tell them what I feel they need to do, and how they could do it. I instruct them that if they don’t at least try some of the suggestions I make, that they probably won’t see very much change. You know what happens?

Nothing. Nothing changes, and they wonder why therapy “isn’t working.”

So then my question is, what do you want out of counseling? What do you expect to get? I have my limitations as a therapist: I can only offer tools that I know are going to help people based on experience. I wish I  could go and apply these tools to people for their own good. I really wish I could make things better for them, and make them feel better. But unless, they take advantage of the tools, and take the time to use those tools, I can’t help people beyond handing the tools to them.

So I guess I ask the question, and I’ll do one better. I’ll throw you some suggestions on how to get the most out of counseling sessions.

1. Know what you want out of counseling and tell your therapist up front. Your therapist should be able to handle this. Be clear about what you want, and more often than not, your therapist will give it to you.

2. Be up front with what you’ve tried. The more information you provide to your counselor about what you’ve tried before, the less likely they are to waste oxygen giving you information you’ve already tried.

3. Your therapist is obligated to let you know if they can, and can’t,  help you. Ask your therapist if they can do what you’re asking them to do. I have no problem telling clients that I do not work with schizophrenia or psychotic disorders. I know my limitations, and your counselor should know theirs too.

4. Know when to get out. If your therapist isn’t helping you, then it may be time to start looking. This doesn’t mean if you don’t “feel good” when you’re doing counseling. If your uncomfortable with doing work, or changing behavior or thought patterns, counseling isn’t likely going to feel good. However, if your counselor is boring, unhelpful, or ill equipped to handle your situation, then it may be time to get out. If you have a good rapport with that counselor, and they step on your toes, address it with them in session. Also, if you’ve accomplished your goal, decide if you want to set up a new one, or just end treatment until something else comes up.

Maybe it might be good to think about what role you want your therapist to play. What do you want out of counseling? Comments Welcome!