What Makes Counseling Work?
The single biggest guarantee of counseling success? Client commitment to the therapeutic process.
If you have a mediocre counselor–but a heroic commitment to counseling–you can still achieve heroic growth. However, if you have a heroic counselor–but a mediocre commitment to the therapeutic process–your progress will be mediocre.
That’s because the responsibility for change lies with the client. We tell our incoming clients that, if things get better for them, they get all the credit. We don’t take an ounce of credit for their success. That’s because if things don’t get better–they get all the credit! We don’t take credit for their success, so we don’t take credit for their failures, either.
In therapy–as in life–when you are committed to putting in the work and sticking with it, you will become a better version of yourself. In my years of providing counseling, I have found that substantial, sustainable change typcially occurs after three phases: Recognition, Desire, and Fortitude.
First, you have to become aware that a change is necessary. There are plenty of people walking around today who are blind to their faults, or bad habits, or self-destructive tendencies. Some of us don’t recognize that we need to make a change or else things aren’t going to get better for us at work, or in our relationships, or in our opinions of ourselves. You have the recognition that a change is necessary in order to make life better for yourself? Check.
Next, you have to have the desire to change. Many of us know that something needs to change, but we have no interest in changing it. So you’ll hear, “Yeah, I know I need to eat better, but I like junk food too much.” “I should probably cut down on my drinking, but not during the summer when it’s so nice out.” “Look, she says I have problems with my anger and she’s probably right. But, dammit! Things don’t get done around here unless I blow up once in a while.” You want to stop your unhealthy habits? Check.
Come the most challenging part of the change process: fortitude. Stick-to-itiveness. Failing and continuing, rather than failing to continue. “Fortitude” is a beautiful word that most people don’t even use any more. It is experiencing the hills and valleys of defeat before climbing the mountain of triumph. Helen Keller wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” She was referring to fortitude.
If you recognize that you need to make a change, if you have the desire to make the necessary change, and if you cultivate the fortitude to see it through, then you will almost certainly make changes in your life.
There are times when you can do this on your own. Sometimes, a friend or loved one can help you. Other times, a professional counselor is the most helpful person in your process of change.
If you enter into counseling, remember: you will be supported and respected. You will be heard. But you–not the counselor–will do the hardest work.