Next Monday is the last night of my Counseling & Physiology class (well, last night for the students as I have a boatload of papers to read and grade). As you might imagine, we spend a bit of time talking about psychotropic medications, their value, and probable side effects. Most students fall into one of two categories. Either they have personal and (largely) positive experiences with medications or they have concerns about side effects and observe the tendency of our culture to over-medicate.
But, it would probably be good for me to remind students that there are side effects to counseling or therapy as well. Most clinicians are trained to inform their first time clients that things sometimes get worse before they get better. Counseling requires that you attend to your problems, problems that you may have been in denial about. Talking about painful things usually means you think about them more outside of the hour with the counselor. In addition, you may find that the problem you entered with was only the tip of the iceberg. Or, you may find that the work to be done in therapy is much harder and slower than you thought, or the solution much different than you imagined.
There are a few other side effects that are worth pointing out.
- You may discover you aren’t the righteous victim you thought you were; that you need more grace and mercy than you want to admit
- You may discover you have bigger blind spots leading to new areas to die to self
- You may discover that others can love you despite your flaws
- You may discover the joy of accepting some things you thought not possible to accept
- You may discover better goals than the goal of getting beyond your troubles
- You may discover strengths you didn’t know you had; success with new habits you had previously believed beyond you
Yes, counselors ought to talk to their clients about the side effects of proceeding in therapy (both general and specific to the particular intervention). Not to have this conversation is to not serve the client well. They need to know what they can expect from you and what other options they might choose. Of course, we also should discuss the side effect of doing nothing at all.