So, you have decided it’s time to begin counseling for depression. You know that you need help, and it’s a courageous decision to move forward. But what should you expect to happen in therapy when depression is being treated? What’s involved in counseling for depression? What steps will be taken? In which direction will the sessions move?
*Before we begin, if you’re still not sure about starting depression counseling, first, read our article: 4 Signs It’s Time to Begin Counseling for Depression.
A plan helps when starting something new
In my opinion, starting something new without any prior knowledge is uncomfortable. We all would rather know what we’re getting into. For example, if you’d like bike the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, SC, you don’t just start with zero investigation. Where do you want to end up? Would you like to explore Furman or Traveler’s Rest? Maybe you want to visit Cleveland Park or the Greenville Zoo? You could just be in the mood for ice-cream and walking on the famous Liberty Bridge. Ultimately, where you’d like to end up determines the path you should take, as well as what to bring along for the trip.
With symptoms of depression, you’re probably wanting to feel better: more positive, more energy, more at peace. You likely want connections with certain people to improve. So, if that’s true, then what do you need to “bring” to counseling? Here are five expectations that will help you prepare for starting depression counseling.
Expect to share your story in counseling for depression
First, sharing honestly about your experience is always a key ingredient in counseling. Your counselor needs to know what has been going on, if they are going to help. Typically, the first 1-2 sessions involve the counselor asking questions to better understand your experience, and to determine the best plan moving forward. We want to know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. When do things get hard? What are the feelings it brings you? How about the thoughts underlying this experience, the narrative that runs through your mind? How do you typically respond or cope in the tough moments?
Yes, the first session or two is a time for gathering information, but it’s not merely that. Expect to experience genuine empathy and understanding from your counselor. Being heard and understood are important. If you feel your counselor is not “clicking” with you, or you are confused with the process, this is a great time to speak up, ask questions, get a sense of the direction the counselor has.
Expect to set unique counseling goals based on your experience with depression
Second, no one person has experienced depression the same way. Good counselors should understand this and will ultimately help you set goals that make sense for your situation. For instance, depression may have caused you to lose energy and isolate more from others. Your goals then might center around getting out more regularly or trying some activities aimed at increasing your energy level.
Typically, when depression symptoms have taken their toll, expect counselors to focus (at least initially) on finding practical actions or coping skills that can help. Depression often makes it harder to engage deeply in conversation or maintain focus for a long time. Counselors often aim first at finding some very practical or concrete actions you can take that will improve your experience. Again, any coping strategies or plan will make sense depending on your unique experience and goals.
Expect to focus underlying thoughts in depression counseling
Third, you can expect that depression counseling will eventually involve sharing about your deeper thoughts and emotions. Your counselor will likely ask about important life contexts, such as work, friends, relationships with family, your spouse (if applicable), physical health, spiritual life, and your interests or hobbies you have. Each area here if very important in and of itself. Yet, talking about these matters also reveals how we see our self. Our own self-concept or identity is often negative when depression gets going. Words like inadequate, failure, forgotten, alone often ring true for our experience.
However, it has been shown that our thoughts often become very skewed during depression. It turns into a vicious cycle: the more depressed I feel, the more easily my thinking becomes negative and skewed. Yet, the more I think this way, the more depressed I feel. Many counseling approaches aimed at treating depression show clients how to break out of this negative thinking cycle. We all have some version of self-talk that goes on inside us, even if we are unaware. Counseling for depression will help you become more aware and learn ways to think more accurately and honestly about your self and life experiences.
Expect to learn new things in counseling for depression
Fourth, it’s important to remember the big picture – you wouldn’t be starting counseling if you could figure it all out on your own. To be clear, needing support from others is not a sign of weakness. We are wired for connection and made to learn from each other. Despite this truth, even the most courageous person will (at times) have difficulty exploring a new path. A part of us may feel silly trying something new, or guilty that we even must reach out for others. Don’t let this part control you though. Stay open and curious about the counseling process. Being flexible and willing to take a risk is a key ingredient to the process. How else would you learn though?
Expect depression counseling to end at some point
Fifth, and finally, rest assured that counseling for depression will not go on forever. Most research studies that explore various counseling approaches for depression consist of about twelve total sessions. You should go into the counseling process with the expectation that it will end at some point. We like to tell people to just plan for about 5-6 sessions at the start. Typically, this is enough time to share your story, establish specific goals, find skills that help you, and explore the deeper thoughts and feelings of your experience. Many clients find that continuing sessions beyond this is needed and helpful. And certainly, some experiences and stories warrant a longer, deeper treatment approach. However, many find they have been significantly helped after a brief season of therapy. Ultimately, ethical counselors are seeking to empower clients toward health. For depression counseling, this means helping clients connect with resources in their own life, outside of our sessions.
Begin Depression Counseling in Greenville, SC
So, these are the top 5 things to expect when as you begin counseling for depression. We find that these expectations are doable for most clients we work with. If you align with these expectations, consider reading about our trained counselors who desire to be a resource for real change and growth in your life. Or you can check out an overview of how we treat depression. It is possible to improve your sense of joy and overcome the challenges of depression. Reach out today to our Greenville, SC Counseling Clinic for a free phone consultation.
In the next article, we will explore how counseling for depression helps.