Key Steps to Success in Counseling

Four key steps to success in the counseling process:

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By: Dr. Noah H. Kersey Ph.D.


Many who need counseling either will not seek it or they come for therapy and are not willing to make any changes in their lives. They want others to change; they want their environment or circumstances to change but they are resistant to doing anything different themselves.

It is surprising how much emotional pain a person can endure because they have difficulty embracing the idea of change. Many individuals have difficulty with the process of change because it can create much anxiety getting outside one's comfort zone. For some, it's just being a creature of habit and the known is more preferable than the unknown. New habits, new methods of doing things, and changing thinking patterns or behaviors take a great deal of energy and time, as well as courage.

Courage can be defined as "the willingness to do something even if you are afraid."

Given the choice of being with someone who is courageous or someone who is fearless, choose the courageous person. Anyone who is without fear can be a danger to you because they will take risks that could get you hurt. The person with courage is willing to do what it takes and will most likely be more careful about it because they do experience fear. They are not paralyzed by fear; they are empowered by it.

Seeking help and making changes in your life requires courage. If you are willing to be different you are about a quarter of the way to having a better life.


Some individuals will relate that they are willing to make changes in their life but lack the drive or energy to actually do so. They will begin the process by seeking therapy and they will express a desire for change but will not make the effort necessary to actually carry out the process.

The initial reason they are in counseling is that their life may have deteriorated to the point of being in a state of crisis. They may have become entangled in the legal system; been threatened with loss of their marriage or family; or in danger of losing their jobs. In addition, they may also be in emotional pain over such a length time that their health has become an issue.

A crisis situation may be hurtful but it may also be helpful. In many situations things may have to get worse before it gets better for the change process to take place.

The Chinese have a written character in their language that has two meanings. This character represents both the concept of danger and opportunity. Therefore, a crisis can be a life disaster or calamity but it can also be a means to making life better because it provides a motivation for personal growth and development. Without a strong drive for change, it is less likely to happen.

When an individual has both the willingness to improve and the motivation to do so, they have half of what it takes to succeed in the counseling process.


The old adage "quitters never win and winners never quit" basically says it best.

Nevertheless, people tend to be impatient with the personal growth process. Many of us want things and we want them right now. At least those of us who lack the maturity to suffer delayed gratification will express this urgency along with those who are experiencing enormous distress in their life. However, we who believe that "anything worth having is worth waiting for," will persist in the pursuit of change, and are the ones who will prevail over adversity.

The counseling process requires such commitment and patience. Without these two characteristics, many will rush into what they think is a viable solution but eventually find the problem has not really been resolved at all.

What is the true purpose of time?

The answer is "so that everything doesn't have to happen all at once." Therefore, we must remind ourselves to stay the course and allow the sequence of events to occur so that we can make positive changes over the course of time. A formula for success I use in my practice is also the definition of "learning" as we use it in therapy. That formula is: L= c/t x E [or learning is any change that occurs over time as a result of experience]. The "over time" part of this formula is crucial to the learning process and is required because real and lasting change rarely occurs instantaneously.

The key to success in counseling, or in any task in life, aside from having the willingness and the motivation to change [adapt or learn] is to stay the course of therapy and realize that interpersonal problems develop over many years and it will take time to resolve them. If you possess or develop these attributes in the initial phase of counseling you will be three quarters on the way to success.


Faith is the final and most critical step in creating success.

If a person does not believe in themselves or in what they are doing, it becomes almost impossible to accomplish any project or task. In other words, the more you believe in something, the more you increase your chances of being successful at it.

The concept of belief in oneself or belief in a process seems simple and we can usually agree about the necessity of it, but there are still those who fail because they do not possess the strength of faith to accomplish their goals.

One of the reasons people will suffer great and enduring emotional distress is that they do not believe counseling or psychotherapy can help them. They have seen multi-media programs that disparage individuals who seek counseling, or portray counselors and psychotherapists in an unflattering manner. Some may view counseling as for the weak and cowardly. Each person fails when they have little or no faith in the healing process of change. The successful individual understands that it takes believing in yourself and in others to accomplish a goal or task. They realize that a certain amount of trust needs to be placed in a well-trained, well-educated health care provider or at least explore their lack of trust issues with the therapist in the beginning phase of counseling.

This lack of trust in others may stem from early childhood issues and be a primary source of a person's pain. For those of us who are believers and possess a faith in God, we have a means outside ourselves to succeed. Harvard University and the National Institute of Mental Health both undertook a research project to disprove the power of prayer and both studies resulted in seeing a significant influence that prayer has in healing. It is encouraging that two secular institutions could inadvertently support the power of faith.

Overcoming adversity and gaining achievement is a culmination of all four attributes of willingness, motivation, commitment, and faith, and with them you can have a complete opportunity of success in therapy as well as any reasonable goals you set in life.


Dr. Kersey has been providing mental health services since 1977 and provides services for individuals, couples, families as well as groups. He has a special interest in areas of co-dependent relationships, adoption issues, marital therapy, as well as stress of life issues. Dr. Kersey is a licensed psychologist and has been practicing in Indiana since 1987. You may contact him at his website:

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