Side effects of Counseling?

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.


Filed under christian counseling, counseling, counseling science

4 responses to “Side effects of Counseling?

  1. Would you tell your clients and students that the chance of success was not greater than that of chance? My clinical psychology teacher did, in class, in 1980.

  2. Interestingly enough, I have to say that this is something not new. I’ve recently been attending to relaxation therapy for clinical trials for ptsd. Lately, I have noticed probably smaller changes, not as I have expected to. These therapy sessions have really made me become more open with the true inner workings of my complex ptsd and circumstances that surround my life.

    I guess my point is that I come out more exhausted and tired after the sessions with my therapist. As successful the sessions go, emotionally I am done. I am really grateful for the counseling and therapy sessions I have been to, but its much more harder work than ppl don’t make it seem. My therapist once told,that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of courage and strength. It takes a lot for ppl like me, who like to look strong and take on the role of helping the world, meanwhile its another story. I may have said too much but I am grateful for what I have done but I know its just the beginning of recovery.

    I enjoyed reading this.

  3. Good reminder, in fact this might be something worth reminding a client/patient frequently as the focus most of the time is how one can stop feeling pain of the past and how it still lives. If the focus can stay on the process and what it might include it will help, hopefully, to stay in the present and in reality of today. Just saying….

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