Happy couple in counseling

by: Jonathan Pishner

To view the video version of this post, click here.


Many people are confused about what they should expect from good counseling services.
While counseling is becoming more common and accepted, the reality is that many people still have no idea how the process works.  Couple that with the fact that there are definitely some poor counselors out there, and it’s easy to get confused about what to expect.  So, I wanted to share my own view on what good successful counseling looks like.

It is essential to understand what good counseling is, so that you can make informed choices when looking for the counselor that best suits you.

There are three features that I think are essential to great counseling.



In almost all cases good counseling should be temporary. Weekly therapy for years and years is not usually something we would view as the goal.  Whenever we’re working in a counseling situation, we’re working on an identified problem.  Whether that problem is trauma, depression, relationships, or anything else, if counseling is continuing forever– that means the identified problem is never getting solved.

So, good counseling should be viewed as a temporary process, even if it has to last for a long time.  Sometimes we are dealing with pretty complex problems.  If we’re working on childhood trauma, plus anxiety, plus relationship problems, that can be a lot to tackle.  But we’re still viewing the process as one that comes to an end, because at some point we’ll finish working through the whole list.

NOTE: There are a few exceptions to this.  Some people have certain disorders where you really do need to be part of a therapy process in the long term, but the usual things people experience do not require a permanent counseling arrangement.



If I work with you for a year and you are the same person at that last session as you were the first session, something went wrong.

In a good counseling process, something should be growing.  Your ability to deal with your emotions, your ability to handle a relationship, or your view of yourself as a person; There should be some sort of noticeable evolution occurring as a result of the counseling process.

If counseling is happening, but growth is absent, then something is being ineffective.  Maybe the counselor hasn’t selected the correct counseling approach, or maybe the client is not applying the concepts between sessions.  Maybe it’s just a poor personality fit.  No matter the reason, something is going wrong in the process if growth is not occurring.

In fact, not only should growth occur, it should start quickly.

In our opinion, a person should start getting benefits pretty immediately after we begin the counseling process.  It usually shouldn’t take you 6, 9, or 12 months to start noticing a change.

One of the things I usually tell people is if you are not either a) experiencing some sort of benefit by the end of the second session or b) you’re not very clear on how you’re going to experience your benefit by the end of the second session, then you could be with the wrong person.

That counts even if that person is me.  There have been times where someone comes in and either the problem is just not really my area of expertise, or they don’t connect well with my personality.  In either case, that makes me less of a good fit.  If I’m not a good fit, the therapy process will be less effective, and that’s bad for everyone.

In any event, if you don’t notice some fairly immediate effects, or you’re not immediately able to believe you’ll get some benefit, it may be a signal that you’re with the wrong counselor.



I don’t want to be the hero of your story.

I want to assist you in becoming the hero of your story.

Mentorship trains someone to carry out a task with skill.  In counseling, the skills we work on involve leading the life you want.

The thing about mentorship is that it’s usually temporary. Look at any mentor figure in any story and you’ll see this.  You see it in Obi-Wan in Star Wars, or Dumbledore in Harry Potter.  Pick your story, but in all cases the mentor figure shows up, teaches the person some things they need to become a hero, and then eventually they disappear from the story.  Sometimes, they pop back in every once in a while, say a useful thing or two, and then they disappear again.

That’s what counseling should be like.  My idea of successful counseling is that a client will eventually be ready to say, “I no longer need you, you’ve taught me what I needed to know”.

Usually, a good counselor is working to get fired.

That’s part of the story.  Once the mentor has given the hero what they need, the mentor becomes far less involved in the story.

Sometimes, that means counseling ends completely.  But, some of our clients like to hear from us once every few months.  Almost like a dentist checkup.  Instead of ending counseling completely, some people come in every few months to do a check-in.  It’s often a review of what they’ve experienced, how they handled it, and then we suggest if there are any ways they could have handled it better.  And usually, they’ve handled everything just fine.

But it gives us the opportunity to say “Here’s a spot where I noticed you could have done this quicker, (or more efficiently, or more effectively) let’s walk through how you could have done that.”

When clients do this, returning problems get noticed early, and can be dealt with quickly.

No matter whether we leave the story completely, or just mostly, our role as a mentor is to help you stand on your own.


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