Something I say to every client that walks in my door is that counseling is a collaborative process, and I believe that you know yourself best. Counseling presents a unique dynamic in that clients are coming to a professional seeking perspective and guidance on a particular emotional or behavioral issue. In this dynamic, there is a perceived imbalance of power between the counselor and client. This imbalance of power is something that counselors are very mindful of, and we are very careful to not take advantage of this. What can happen with this perceived imbalance of power is that clients may not feel comfortable voicing disagreements they have with their counselor or voicing that they are not getting what they need from their counselor. This can cause major problems. At minimum, the client isn’t making the best use of their time and money and may be discouraged about the concept of counseling as a whole. On a more extreme level, this can reinforce unhealthy beliefs that the client’s needs and opinions aren’t important, and this may actually exacerbate the problem they came to counseling to address.
As counselors, we do our best to create an open, judgment free environment and encourage clients to speak openly and honestly. If your counselor tells you something that you disagree with, doesn’t sit right with you, or you’re confused about, it can be so beneficial to bring this up and discuss it. As a counselor, I would much prefer a client to tell me that they disagree with my perspective or suggestions than to go along with something they don’t understand or agree with. When clients voice their dissenting opinion, I can help them understand my point of view and the reasons behind what I said, and I can also learn so much from that client’s perspective. This disagreement helps me learn more about the client’s values, experiences, and point of view, and also helps me as a counselor to see barriers that exist for others in making changes. Most importantly, if I say something that is offensive or hurtful to someone, it gives me the opportunity to make amends and apologize and to show this client that their feelings matter.
If you disagree with your counselor or you’re not getting what you need from counseling, you have a few options.
Option #1: Cancel your upcoming appointment or don’t schedule another appointment, and simply don’t go back to see this counselor.
Option #2: Let the counselor know that you don’t think this is a good fit and that you will be seeking counseling services elsewhere.
Option #3: Tell your counselor what issues you are having with him or her and discuss what needs you have that are not being met by his or her counseling services. Discuss with your counselor how to amend these issues and give your counselor a few more sessions to make those changes. If nothing changes and you are still not satisfied, see options #1 & #2.
Many people are afraid of confronting their counselor or changing counselors because they don’t want to hurt their counselor’s feelings or they’re afraid of what their counselor will think. I’ll give you one counselor’s opinion: I deeply desire to help every client that I see. I want to see them meet their goals, experience peace and freedom, and feel joy beyond their wildest imagination. Sometimes, I’m not the best person to help them meet their goals. Sometimes I say things that may not actually be helpful because I might be missing part of this person’s story. Sometimes I need to apologize to my clients. If a client tells me that they want to find someone who is a better fit, I will feel some disappointment, but I will also feel immense respect and gratitude toward this client for honoring their needs and desires. If someone disagrees with me, I will feel some disappointment and maybe even embarrassment, but I will be so excited that they feel comfortable enough with me to share their true feelings. I’ll be so proud of that client for voicing their opinion and fighting back their anxiety in order to be truly honest. Assertiveness is not easy, but it is effective, and it is worth it.
We are not always responsible for the things that happen to us, but we are responsible for our healing journey. Part of that journey involves being aware of our needs and desires and also having the courage to voice those needs and desires. Beginning counseling and showing up week after week is a huge, important step and takes so much commitment and effort. I would hate for that effort to be wasted by the fear of being truly honest about your feelings and needs.
There is a perceived imbalance of power in the counseling office, but it is only perceived. As the client, you hold so much power. You have power to grow, to heal, to change, and to live the life you want. You have the power to steer your sessions and focus on what you want to focus. You have the power to be assertive and confront your counselor when you want. You have the power to walk away if you feel that is best. Use your power well.