A conversation with one of my clients prompted to me to write an article about whether or not you have to open up and share what is going on to benefit from counseling. I think there is a preconceived idea of a person lying on the couch as the psychotherapist probes the person’s brain during counseling. It provokes feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. This is far from the normal counseling experience. When a person walks through the door into the counseling room, they are fully in charge of what they share, how they share it, and on their own terms. With this being said, being dishonest will not result in progress in counseling. However, it is quite possible to experience huge growth through counseling without having to share your deepest darkest feelings.
Many years ago I worked with a child whose father had recently passed away. This child was falling behind in school, had huge anger outbursts, and was suffering from depression. He wanted to feel better, but by nature was a private person. He did not want to tell people what he was feeling, what he was thinking, or even how he was doing. I made a deal with him that if he would learn techniques in counseling, he could do them at home on his own and would not have to share his feelings with anyone. I taught him thought stopping and replacement techniques, coping skills, and how to journal. He also took the time to make a memory box. Within four months he had a complete turnaround, doing very well in school, was happy again, and was getting along well with his grandparents.
This is experience made a huge impact on me as a therapist. It is not necessary for people to verbalize all their emotions to make progress. Since that experience, I have worked with several other people who are generally more private about their emotions. I have found that they need a coach, someone to provide a framework for them to work from. Instead of processing all of the emotion in the counseling room they learn the skills and are able to get feedback. A session would generally consist of the client asking questions, discussing the situation in a general manner, and spending time doing psychoeducation. I also try to role play, using made up scenarios rather than making them discuss their personal experience.
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