The goal of counselling is to support people as they move toward their goals of managing themselves, their life issues, and their relationships. This often works best as a collaborative process between counsellor and client, to create the conditions to support change. Each counsellor will have their own favourite ways for participating in or guiding this process. In my own counselling work, I try to have enough flexibility to match my own framework and knowledge with the client’s own wisdom and preferred ways of doing things.
Much of mental health counselling is based on conversation and requires counsellors to employ good listening skills, ask good questions, and provide psychoeducation. It can also be extremely helpful to provide tangible tools like worksheets, handouts, or exercises at different points to deepen or clarify things. I have found there are four common points in the counselling process when I might reach for tools like this:
When the client is struggling to find and clarify goals
It is not uncommon for people to talk to a counsellor, knowing they or someone else would like some kind of relief, change, or resolution to a struggle in life, but not have any ideas for what to do about the situation.
It can be extremely helpful to provide tangible tools like worksheets, handouts, or exercises at different points in the counselling process.
If they are struggling to choose a goal to focus on
Others will come to a counselling session and have many ideas of what they want to work on. However, this list may be too long or overwhelming to tackle all at once. That’s why helping them sort through their priorities, what is realistic, and what is most likely to move them toward their goals can be an important part of the counselling process.
To notice and mark progress
At any point in the counselling process, people may feel stalled or unsure if things are changing in a helpful way. It can be beneficial to occasionally step back to review what’s different, what’s staying the same, and what’s new.
To provide practical support along the way
Active counselling work can be challenging and take a lot of energy. Practical tools, activities, and worksheets can provide helpful structure for the inner work that is ongoing.
One example of when I have used a worksheet to help a client choose a goal to focus on was in my work with someone I’ll call Janet. We had been working together in counselling for about three months. I knew a lot about Janet’s life at this point, and she was comfortable with the process of our conversations and said she found them helpful. However, she would often struggle with feeling overwhelmed when she was spending time with family members, who were involved in many parts of her life. Janet described feeling like all her issues would come up together, and she would feel stuck without knowing what to do differently as a result.
Janet could easily identify things she would like to change in these relationships. Examples included (among others):
- Getting along better with her mother
- Being able to manage her anger with her teenage son
- Being less reactive to her brother when he makes suggestions
- Letting go of old hurt from her past relationship with her father
Janet described thinking about all of these goals simultaneously and feeling helpless to change any of them. We had talked about these relationships many times, and it seemed we needed a way to help Janet find a focus for realistic change. After talking it through, Janet realized each of these goals had many layers to them, and we needed to break them into more manageable pieces.
Practical tools, activities, and worksheets can provide helpful structure for the inner work that is ongoing.
A new resource from CTRI is the Counselling Activities Workbook, which contains a wide variety of worksheets, including several that can help with this sort of goal setting. To help Janet with her goal, we chose an activity from the Change and Planning section of the workbook called Identifying Your Barriers to Change.
From her four relationship goals, Janet chose one that she felt more hopeful about because of the influence she had over the situation. Then we used the worksheet to explore barriers and possible steps within that goal. Janet noted her experience of control or choice related to each barrier, and we brainstormed possible steps.
Goal: Be less reactive to my brother when he makes suggestions
|What stops you from achieving your goal?||How much control do you have over this factor?
(High, medium, or low?)
|What are some possible solutions?|
I think about all the past times he has been bossy and told me what to do
|• I can write these thoughts and feelings down and reflect on them later.
• I can practice focusing on the present situation only
|His voice gets loud||Low||• I can’t make him change. I can ask him to use a different tone|
As soon as he starts talking, I get upset
Medium – high
|• I can predict this, so I can prepare myself ahead
• I can calm myself down beforehand
• I can choose when to ask him for his opinion so he feels heard
The exercise of reflecting and writing down the different barriers within one goal helped Janet slow down her thinking. This allowed her to realize that it made sense she got overwhelmed since there was a lot going on at the same time! The chart also showed Janet that there are times when she has more influence and choice and others when she has less. Together we planned how she could focus her energy on what she had more choice and influence over. This helped her feel more hopeful and focused the next time she spent time with her brother.
Using a worksheet like this one in your counselling work can provide structured support for thinking through a particular challenge. By doing an activity with your client or reviewing it after they’ve filled it out themselves, your counselling conversations can have greater direction and depth. It can spark new ideas for your client and help you discover and explore other important areas to help support the change process.
The Counselling Activities Workbook contains 147 different worksheets divided among 12 sections that each represent a different counselling topic. There are questionnaires, worksheets, reflective exercises, mapping activities, safety plans, and coping strategies to help support your counselling work.
The 12 sections of counselling activities are:
- Change and Planning
- Coping and Stress
- Self-Awareness and Self-Esteem
- Cognitive Behavioural Strategies
- Body and Movement
- Mindfulness and Calming
- Safety Plans
- Connecting and Relationships
Click here for more information and to order the Counselling Activities Workbook.
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