What Happens in Counseling?

Many single parents know they need someone to talk to but may not be comfortable with speaking to a counselor.  The money it takes to see a professional counselor may not be worth it when they have no idea what the outcome would be. It often feels like putting on a blindfold to buy a car.

So here is it: The key to a successful life is to make pursuit of change and growth a lifestyle. Counseling is a collaborative effort between a trained individual, and a client, toward that endeavor. The counselor can be a licensed practicing counselor, a lay counselor, pastoral counselor, school counselor; it doesn’t matter as long as they are qualified. The goal is to help the client to identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil, seek to improve communication and coping-skills, strengthen self-esteem, promote behavioral changes and optimal health (American Counseling Association).

With that said, there are many approaches one can take with a client to pursue optimal health and the range of care runs from a far left management style, typically reserved for those in a physically unhealthy place, all the way to right which utilizes an empowerment method, typically reserved for those who are physically healthy but wanting improvement in their lifestyle; and variations exist between.

Your First Session

When you attend your first session, the counselor evaluates where on the spectrum you exist. For you, the first meeting is where you get to explain why you made the appointment and the counselor may probe to hear more about something or to ask how something made you feel. The counselor is simply trying to gather information. From there, the counselor will decide whether to approach the client with an empowerment method or a managing method. Neither should be shared with you unless it would enhance your care. Your counselor is trained to know.

Just as a warning, no one stays on the spectrum in the same place for a life time. Any number of factors: medications, trauma, grief, job changes, diet changes, marriage, divorce, birth of child, can affect mental health. We are constantly moving on the spectrum and this is why it is important to be self-aware. Note the things that are affecting your contentment, sleep, happiness, etc. If a change is detected and it would be appropriate, the treatment plan (a fancy way of saying “goals”) is reevaluated, current care is adjusted and the new approach begins.

The Second Meeting and On…

First, no matter where on the spectrum we exist, when we have a problem and seek a solution, we need a plan we are in control of. So much of our lives are out of our control and much of what knocks us off course is what boils over from other individual’s drama. Rarely does a person say, “I am responsible for my trouble.” Moreover, to be fair, if you listen to their story, you would agree. We all have someone in our life that we call the “crazy boyfriend”, “crazy girlfriend”, “crazy mom”, “crazy dad”, “crazy uncle”, etc. They seem to revel in the idea of making us miserable so they can feel better about their lives. Furthermore, all of us have made a poor decision at one point or another, and while that decision wasn’t horrible in a grand way, the consequence it brought turned out to be more than we expected. We lose control at every turn in our lives and we struggle to maintain as much as we can. This is the nature of man and considering what we do not have power over, it is critical to have something we can have master over. What better than to take control of our mental and emotional health with goals.

With that said, it is common to go to a counselor with a presenting problem but the counselor won’t see it the way you do:

Progress requires your commitment and cooperation.

a. Empowerment: In an empowerment environment where you are being encouraged to take control of your growth, you would be expected to set goals in hopes of solving the problem. Physical health is in check, but an exercise regiment may still be a good idea to add.
b. Management: In a management setting, a tangible solution is not necessarily set, but instead you would simply explore the root problems and causes for emotions. Progress is slower but good understanding of self is achieved, and sometimes it is necessary to collaborate with your doctor or psychiatrist in the event of a physical problem compounding the emotional and mental stresses. Once the physical health is in check, progression is moved toward empowerment.
c. Homework: Yes, I said homework. The counselor may need to introduce new ideas but they have to be careful to educate without taking control. Books, podcasts, YouTube videos, websites, are a great way to do this!
d. Check Point: At some point the counselor will discuss how you think things are going and if necessary make changes to your goals. You have the freedom to make changes, provided you discuss them with the counselor first, and just so you know, progress requires your commitment and cooperation.
e. Resources: Additionally, when trying to create lasting changes in our lives we still need to survive at home and provide for our families. Be sure to ask for tangible resources that would help you through current circumstances. If the counselor knows of anything he/she would be happy to tell you about them.

What If You Aren’t Making Progress?

Earlier I referred to “responsibility” being an aspect of counseling. If you create a set of goals with the assistance of your counselor, the understanding is that you will follow through with what you say you want. This looks like attending a class you commit to, following the exercise plan put in place, reading the article given, etc. The counselor is your guide, like Jiminy Cricket, someone to help you see through life’s trials in a new way as you take life by the bootstraps! If the counselor sees that you are routinely not accomplishing your goals there are several things that may be occurring:

1. Medical: There may be a medical reason for non-compliance. In which case the counselor could recommend you see a doctor or psychiatrist for proper treatment.
2. Uncomfortable: If you are unwilling to participate in your goals, by your actions you are saying that you do not want the counselor’s help. As a result, the counselor may recommend you to someone else. This does not mean you have to go to someone else, but your progress is more important to the counselor than maintaining you as a client. Your well-being is the priority. You are important.
3.  Sin: If you are willing to explore the problem of sin in your life as a factor, biblical avenues can be explored to overcome unproductivity.

“Satan knows that he cannot destroy you…The best he can do (and he intends to make full use of it) is to make your time on earth futile and unproductive, to suffocate you with sin, insecurity, fear, and discouragement until you are unable to live freely and fully.” (Shirer, 2016)

By God

There comes a point in all counseling where the counselor has done all they can do. “We are all hopelessly flawed” (Hosseini, 1994) and as such we are all in a constant state of change and pursuit of achieving healthier versions of ourselves. To pursue Christ-actualization, is the key. He taught us, through His example, how we are to be. Furthermore, if we pursue Him He promises to take care of us . He’ll meet our needs.

Sanctification is uncomfortable, hard and at times not what we anticipated when we accepted Christ in our hearts as unbelievers. This is not a passive process and our salvation did not make the task of change in our lives a simple one. “Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God (Willard, 2005).”

While we can do nothing authentic without God, we can be sure that if we do nothing, it is apart from God (Willard, 2005). The grace God extends to each of us does not oppose our actions; in fact, it welcomes it and works through it. Creating a plan that is Christ-centered is biblical. Paul describes the process of building a Christ-centered plan for living, the essence of good counseling, as one of accepting the promises of God as the way to become “Partakers of the divine nature. ” As we begin to follow God, allowing His will to take precedence over ours, our nature changes more and more each day, until one day we look back and we no longer recognize who we used to be. Our focus changes, our goals shift, what we love is different and our life is transformed. The pursuit of God is a never ending process, and to do such a thing becomes a way of life. I see counseling as a way to kick-start that process.

When we live here on earth we all have ailments to endure, some worse than others, and the fact remains that pursuing God does not mean we won’t battle trials, most of which are not indicators of our relationship with God and our love for the Savior. While it is possible to physically and mentally back-slide, it is not possible to spiritually backslide. Once saved we are always saved, when we spiritually grow it cannot be lost, our spiritual progress is attained forever. God may not heal our bodies here on this earth but as eternal beings we ultimately live on forever and it is that existence we are investing in by inviting God into the rehabilitation process. Growth and change through the relationship we develop with God goes beyond this life here on earth. We take our spiritual health with us after death and it is this that gives us hope here on earth, no matter our earthly circumstances.


The key to a successful life is to make pursuit of change and growth a lifestyle. At no given time should we assume that we don’t have anything to improve on, or goals to pursue .

Counseling should be a start to this pursuit in our lives, and if done well, carries on beyond the patient/client relationship; relieving the stigma of counseling feared when we first started.



Harvest House Publishers, The International Inductive Study Bible, New American Standard. Lockman Foundation.
Press, InterVarsity. (1995). Biblegateway.com. (G. R. Osborne, Editor, & InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA) Retrieved from Bible Gateway: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/1Tim/Leadership-Qualifications
Armstrong, G. (Director). (1994). Little Women [Motion Picture].
Willard, D. (2005). Living A Transformed Life Adequate To Our Calling. The Augustine Group .
Shirer, P. (2016). The Armor of God, LifeWay Publishers.


By: Vanessa Jackson, MABC LPC-Intern
Supervised by Jimmy Myer, LPC-S
The Timothy Center

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