From counselling sessions to real life: Putting counselling skills into action

A lot of amazing things happen in counselling sessions. Breakthroughs can be made, emotions can be expressed and understood, insights about yourself can be realized.

But the real change happens in between counselling sessions.

The reality is that counselling takes work. The time with your counsellor will involve conversations to get to know you and your goals, and through these conversations, they’ll be able to help you understand yourself better, your behaviours and emotions, and recognize areas of your life and relationships you want to improve.

It’s not just about getting information — counselling is also about building new skills.

“There's a lot of life that happens outside of that counselling appointment. So that process of integrating new information and making change happens mostly outside the counselling space,” says Sarah Rosenfeld, registered social worker and Associate Director of Counselling Initiatives at Calgary Counselling Centre.

“In an ideal situation, there should be things that you're working on between sessions whether it's reading, tracking behaviours, going out and trying something new — those things are going to be really important to the effectiveness [of counselling]”.

Like any new skill, you’ll need to put in some work. How did you become great at that instrument you play? How did you learn to master that amazing meal? How did you become an expert at your job? With practice.

Depending on your reason for counselling, some of the work outside of counselling sessions may include:

  • Reading articles or books

  • Listening to podcasts

  • Tracking and journaling your thoughts and feelings

  • Trying something new

Your counsellor will encourage you to apply what you’ve learned in counselling sessions, in real life situations, in safe ways to build your confidence in developing new skills. Depending on what you’re working on with your counsellor, this could be having a difficult conversation, setting a boundary with a family member, making a routine of getting exercise, or even spending time with your kid doing something they enjoy.

“It's about having a different experience. So often, what happens when there's a problem is that you replay things that haven't worked for you. So it's not about doing more of the same,” says Rosenfeld. “It's about thinking ‘what could I do differently here? How could I approach this differently? What other new things could I bring in to my awareness that will change what this looks like or how I experience it? Or how other people experience me.’”

We come to counselling to make a change — to have a better relationship, to feel better about ourselves, to cope better with a loss. Making changes requires doing things differently than we’ve done in the past. And that takes work. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry. You’re not on your own as you make these changes. Your counsellor is there to help you through this process and make adjustments if the work feels overwhelming.

Information for this blog post was provided by registered social worker, Sarah Rosenfeld. Learn more about our counsellors. To learn more about the counselling process, listen to season 2, episode 4 of the Living Fully podcast, “Challenging Counselling Misconceptions”.

Katherine Hurtigcounselling