This is the seventh post in a 9 part series on frequently asked questions about Summit’s counseling ministry. The 9 questions in this series are:

  1. What is the difference between meeting with a Summit campus pastor and a member of the counseling team?
  2. What is the relationship between Bridgehaven and Summit?
  3. What are the differences between a Summit small group and a G4 group?
  4. How do I know if Bridgehaven or the graduate program is a better fit for me?
  5. How would the counseling provided by a formal pastoral counselor compare to a licensed counselor?
  6. How do I know if my life struggle merits counseling?
  7. What can I do to place myself in the best position to benefit from counseling? (This Post)
  8. How do I find a good match in a counselor for my needs?
  9. How do I find a good counselor in [name of city]?

Counseling is a verb more than a noun; it is something you participate in more than something you receive. With this in mind, it is important to ask the question, “What do I need to do to set counseling up to succeed?” We’ll consider this question for three phases of the counseling relationship.

Phase One: Before Your First Appointment

1. Be Committed

Some people come to counseling wondering “if it will work for them.” This reveals a mindset that is passive towards what will happen in the counseling relationship. Coming to counseling is like joining a gym; it is a great context for change but can’t produce the desired results without your participation.

  • When you think of expectations for counseling, think about what you’ll be doing between sessions.

2. Paperwork

Intake forms are more than an administrative necessity; they serve a vital function for you and your counselor. Intake forms are designed to help you intentionally overview your life in light of your struggle to begin solidifying the goals you have for counseling. Intake forms also allow your counselor to get to know you efficiently. Counseling often jumps into the “deep waters of life” quickly and intake forms are one way your counselor can be sure to have an overview of your life so that your struggles do not over-define who you are.

  • Spend a solid 30-45 minutes thoughtfully completing the counseling intake forms.

3. Be Humbly Self-Aware

Your counselor won’t get to know you better than you know you, and your counselor will only get to know you as you reveal yourself. This means the courage of transparency is required for counseling to be effective. Don’t be ashamed of the areas you need to grow. Prepare yourself to describe them clearly, humbly, and from the perspective of as many people as are affected by them.

  • Use more first person pronouns (I, me, my) than third person pronouns (he, she, them) in the first session.

Phase Two: During Your Counseling Relationship

1. Be Honest

Don’t make your counselor ask the “right questions” to get the “needed information.” That is like taking your car to the mechanic, but being coy about what needs to be fixed. If you are not honest with your counselor, your counselor is not really counseling you, but a figment of your imagination. The advice you receive may be sound, but it will not be well-suited to you or your situation.

  • Before each session and whenever counsel may not feel well-suited to your situation, ask yourself, “What would my counselor need to know to advise me well?”

2. Be Consistent

This means (a) making your appointments, (b) being on time for your appointments, and (c) completing any homework between sessions. When the continuity of counseling is disrupted because of missed appointments, it is difficult for the counseling relationship to catch traction. The most profitable time in a counseling session is usually the last 10 minutes, and if you’re late, you cut that time out of your session in the beginning. It is completing the homework between sessions or reflecting on the counseling conversation that ensures each session builds on the momentum of the previous one.

  • For as long as you are in counseling, make counseling a high priority.

3. Be Patient

Most of this post has been about being pro-active, but that is not a synonym for being impatient or a perfectionist. Counseling involves prioritizing important goals; that is frustrating. Counseling also involves engaging change in a way that allows the changes to endure; that is often less efficient than we would like. This means the “how” of counseling (process / verb) is more important than the “what” of the counsel (content / noun). You are learning how to approach life when it’s messy more than a set of skills to address something in tidy way.

  • Realize this honors you. If there were quick solution to the struggle that brought you to counseling that would be demeaning to the time you invested in resolving the matter before counseling began.

Phase Three: As Counseling Concludes

1. Be Known

The long-term effectiveness of counseling is largely predicated upon the quality of relationships you have outside of counseling. You want to pass the baton of trust and transparency from a counselor to trusted friends who can provide ongoing accountability and support.

  • Be a part of a small group and seek opportunities to be more open about what you’re learning and how you’re growing through counseling in the small group setting.

2. Grow Independently

As counseling concludes you should begin growing more outside of counseling in areas that are distinct from your counseling agenda than you are inside of counseling in the areas of your counseling goals. Counseling begins because struggles were interfering with life. Counseling concludes when life can be meaningfully engaged despite the remaining struggles.

  • Don’t put life on hold because you are in counseling. Especially in the latter stages of counseling, set goals for things you want to pursue, not just overcome. Let your small group be the context where you share about and seek guidance on these matters.

3. Be Joyously Imperfect

Sanctification is a life-long journey; “graduating” counseling doesn’t mean we’re a finished product. Unless we are at peace with this reality, we will never feel like life is “good enough” to free us from counseling. However, when we are honest about our struggles in natural community and these struggles no longer impair our ability to engage our primary life roles, then the artificially-paired relationship of counseling is no longer needed.

  • Enjoy being “in process.” Allow it to bring a sense of adventure and purpose to life as you continue to discover areas that God wants to grow and shape your life.