The Role of the Client in Counseling

My role as a counselor is to provide my clients with a safe space to process their thoughts and emotions. I also work with my clients to help them change the way they talk to and think about themselves. This includes teaching skills on how to "reframe" thoughts and using logic and reasoning to dispute irrational and anxious thoughts. Additionally, I provide my clients with coping skills to use when they experience uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. There are a multitude of other things that I may do with a client in order to help them make progress on their goals.

Now that we've discussed the counselor's role in the therapeutic relationship, let's discuss the client's role. Unfortunately, I don't have a wand to wave and make all of my clients' struggles disappear. Simply showing up to counseling usually won't get you to where you want to be in terms of progress and improvement. This means that you, the client, will need to work on some things in between sessions.

The work and the amount of it will vary depending on the counselor that you see and what issues you're struggling with. I often ask my clients to track their mood (and eating disorder behaviors, if applicable) between sessions so they can accurately identify their triggers and develop alternative coping strategies. Sometimes, I assign worksheets that focus on the client's presenting issue. Sometimes, I assign self-care tasks, such as spending time with loved ones or painting their nails. The homework depends on the client and where they are at in the change process.

I don't assign homework to be mean, annoying, or inconvenient. I assign homework because most of the change that a person sees while they're in counseling happens outside of the therapy room. I see my clients for one hour sessions, once per week. That means that, in a given week, they have 167 hours without me and 1 hour with me. Using some of those 167 hours to focus on their struggles will only benefit them in the long run. 

If your counselor happens to assign homework or between-session tasks, I would encourage you to have an open mind and to attempt to complete them. Nothing changes if nothing changes. 

Emily Teegarden