People seek counseling or therapy for a variety of reasons. For some, the decision to make an appointment follows soon after a significant event, experience, or crisis that shakes the person's life or relationship. For others, it's the desire to address long-term patterns, behaviors, or emotions that have affected the different areas of life--home, work, social, etc. And still for others, it's a decision focused on preparing for the future--setting down roots, a strong foundation--for whatever is to come.
While some might desire to commit to more extensive time in counseling, while others simply want a brief course of treatment, there is the hope for everyone that what he or she gains through counseling will be maintained and sustained over time.
How can an individual or couple maintain the successes and gains of therapy?
One way is to remember that counseling itself, like so many other activities in life, is a process: it has a set beginning, middle, and end.
To illustrate, let's take an example from cooking school. You have a new recipe for a delicious dessert. You decide to perform the first 3 steps of the recipe--measure out ingredients, mix them together, and pour the mixture into a baking dish. At that point, you figure it looks good the way it is and choose not to bake it, skipping the 4th step and moving right to step 5--serve. While it's only one step skipped over--the results aren't what you as cook--and your guests--are expecting. (It doesn't look anything like the picture!)
Similarly, in counseling, there is a beginning, middle, and end. At the start of counseling, there is a lot of sharing and reflecting about the difficulties, struggles, challenges, arguments, and conflicts. We're setting the stage for what's to come. Next, in the middle part, there is still the sharing of challenges and difficulties, but we're also practicing and applying new skills and strategies. Anticipating that these new skills sometimes will take time before becoming habits, we keep practicing and practicing until we build a longer experience of success. Once success has been built up, we move into the end, or termination, part of treatment--solidifying gains, learning to recognize relapse warning signs, and reinforcing strengths.
Thus, one of the greater threats to maintaining gains in therapy is dropping-out too early in the process. There's the temptation to do so when it appears that therapy isn't working or that things are getting worse before they get better. If that's the case, be open with your therapist about those concerns. In the end, a sure way to maintain the gains and stay on track is to trust the process.
Just as following the step-by-step directions for a recipe makes for a delicious dessert, so too does following the process of counseling contribute to the likelihood of successful treatment.
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