It is a mistake to assume that someone is ready to make a change, just because they tell you they’re thinking about it. Change is more complicated than Nike’s “Just do it!” slogan.
Counselors know that lasting change builds over time. Many counselors use a strategy called “motivational interviewing” to help clients move through the different stages of change:
Did you notice that the Action stage doesn’t take place until Stage 4?
People come to counseling in different places of readiness, sometimes entering unsure, only contemplating change. Other times, people are already mid-way through the Action stage when they decide they need some extra help. Regardless, your counselor will tailor therapy for you based on your stage of change.
In the early stages of therapy (and throughout the process) building a solid therapeutic alliance with your counselor is integral to therapeutic success. The two of you must partner together to align on your therapeutic goals. Counselors use skills like empathizing, using open-ended questions, reflective listening, and summarizing to help you make your own decisions about change. We respect your decision-making process.
Here’s how counseling can help you move through the change process:
1. Counseling honors your resistance.
During the pre-contemplation stage, you may have some blind spots. You might not have considered changing a certain aspect of your life. Perhaps you’ve been pressured to come to counseling by a nagging spouse, or perhaps you’re are genuinely clueless about how a certain thought-pattern is adversely affecting you. At this point, a counselor will explore your reasons for coming to counseling and directly reflect any reluctance. Maybe there is a good reason why you’ve held back from changing! It’s a counselor’s job to build trust, understand your problem, and gather factual data.
2. Counseling allows you to explore ambivalence, non-judgmentally.
In the contemplation stage of motivational interviewing,your counselor will continue using reflective listening skills to maintain a strong therapeutic relationship while concurrently emphasizing change-talk. You will work together to explore the costs and benefits of change. Clients at this stage remain uncertain about doing anything differently. That’s okay! A therapist can help break down the nature of your ambivalence, understand barriers, get to the root of your deeper values and reasons for changing, and help you to “tip the decisional balance scales” (as described in Miller and Rollnick’s book, “Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change”).
3. Counseling prompts to refine your vision for the future.
The next stage in motivational interviewing is Preparation. In this stage, you have made an intellectual commitment to change but may not know how to translate your desired change into practice. You might need help setting clear goals and understanding your options for implementing change. Your counselor will work in tandem with you to create a practical and personalized treatment plan.
4. Counselors teach skills for the successful completion of therapy.
Every therapist has a unique toolbox of skills, based on their therapeutic orientation (ex. Cognitive-behavioral, existential, narrative, art therapy, psychodynamic, EMDR, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Gestalt, etc.). Many therapists operate from an eclectic approach, pulling techniques and perspectives from a variety of therapeutic modalities. In choosing a counselor, read their bio online to see if their way of thinking about problems (and solutions) fits with yours.
5. Counselors empower you to act on your vision by taking calculated risks and overcoming obstacles.
In the Action stage of change, you begin to make headway on your goals. Your counselor will help you identify potential roadblocks and prepare strategies overcoming them. You might even receive homework from your counselor, tailored to helping you take the next step toward your bigger picture goal. Throughout this process, you’ll reinforce your rationale for change. You may encounter obstacles. Keeping your reason for change in mind will help you keep your eyes on the prize, building resilience as you encounter set-backs.
6. Your counselor may help with short-term wins first.
The steps you take may be small at first, but you’ll be moving forward nonetheless. It is important to celebrate small victories. It feels great to experience progress! If improvement reaches a stand still, it may be time to re-evaluate. Maybe there’s a new roadblock? Maybe there’s an old roadblock that came up unexpectedly in the form of a traumatic memory? You will continue to troubleshoot throughout the entire change process, working toward one small “win” at a time.
7. Counselors help you maintain gains.
In the Maintenance stage, clients have achieved their stated goals and are hoping to continue their work through ongoing lifestyle change. This is the part in therapy where you’ll consolidate gains. You might reflect on all of the steps it took to get you here. It didn’t happen on accident! You’ll take stock of the skills, mindsets, and changes to your environment that you’ve made that allowed success to take place.
Are you ready to make a change in life? Maybe you’re ready to shift out of long-standing depression, low self-esteem, or anxiety. Maybe you’re ready to change dynamics in your family or marriage. If you are thinking about a change, a counselor with Star Meadow Counseling may be able to help. Online scheduling is available on our website– www.starmeadowcounseling.com.
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