Do you ever feel like a hamster on a wheel—as if you are going through the motions of life, but not actually moving forward?

People often come to counseling when they are in this state of stuck-ness. Here’s how we’ve heard clients describe their personal brand of “stuck”:

  • Losing motivation
  • Constant ruminating
  • Living in the past (or future)
  • Indecisiveness—No “good” options
  • “I’ve tried everything.”
  • Compulsive habits (followed often by guilt or shame)
  • Ambivalence about change
  • Fear

Here are six strategies that a counselor might use to help you break out of the hamster wheel (and the cage too).

    A counselor is a neutral (and non-judgmental) observer who listens carefully as you tell your story. When strong emotions have you stuck at ground-level, a counselor is like a helicopter hovering above, helping you build a bigger picture of your surroundings. As long as you are open to gentle (or sometimes hard-hitting) feedback, counselors will help you build awareness of your own blind spots.
    A counselor will help you clearly identify the barriers standing between you and change. You can push the gas pedal on a broken car as much as you want, but until you attune to the mechanics of what’s gone awry, the car will not be moving forward. Barriers might be pragmatic (“I can’t leave my job because I need the money”), based on conflicted values (“I don’t want to lie anymore, but I can’t hurt her feelings”), emotion-driven (“Even the idea is overwhelming”), or derived from ingrained negative beliefs about yourself, others, or your environment.
    Negative thoughts that happen repeatedly, day after day, can become a part of your belief system about how the world works. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, your therapist will help you:

    • Stop negative thought cycles
    • Improve problem-solving
    • Challenge self-defeating thoughts
    • Try out behaviors that might promote a more positive or neutral thought process
    Sometimes we ask counseling clients to create a pie chart, breaking down the content of their distress thoughts by percentage:

    • % of thoughts about the past
    • % of thoughts about the future; and
    • % of thoughts about the present (i.e. this very second in time).

    Often, only a small percentage of the distress is happening at this exact moment. A counselor can show you strategies for containing overwhelming thoughts and feelings so that you access them only during certain times (and not all day long). Counselors can also help you learn mindfulness, grounding, and other coping skills that can be incredibly relieving for those stuck in grief, trauma, or fear.

    For those that struggle with self-motivating, engaging in counseling can be a tremendous asset. Your counselor will be routinely checking in on your self-growth goals (in a supportive, non-nagging, non-shaming way). Many therapists also assign personalized homework to help you continue working toward your goals outside of the counseling office.
    Counseling is a space for you to closely examine all of your options. You can visualize, think through, practice, or even use role play to try out an assertive conversation and see how it feels. Often, this rehearsing or preparing with a professional can be just what it takes to build the confidence you need to take that next step forward.

The licensed counselors at Star Meadow Counseling in Vancouver, WA, are professionals at helping clients get “unstuck.” You can contact us at 360-952-3070 or email us at