When I think of how I want clients to leave their first therapeutic counseling session with me, I want them to feel more hopeful and a bit of excitement.

I almost always start a therapeutic counseling session with a question like this one, “What has changed since your call to schedule?” because change actually begins before that, when the contemplation begins.

I want to assure clients that they are not “crazy” and that together we are going to find some tools which they can apply to their thinking and feeling and behavior which will take them toward their goals.

And then therapeutic counseling usually involves listening, because most clients have a story to tell, and the listening may be all they need.

I remember back to my early days as a detox. counselor in an alcohol and drug treatment center when the psychologist supervising us said that most clients already know the answer to their issue, and that we as professionals were not required to wave magic wands or have magic potions available, and that is so true.

Many clients will report that they feel much better after the telling of the story, and many may not even return after unburdening themselves.

To me, therapeutic counseling speaks to some self-mastery experiences.

So I look for ideas from research that have not yet become mainstream, and I might just try them out for myself, and if the tool has some validity, or the book has some bearing on the client’s situation, for example, I will suggest that they look for information or try them out, so that client’s develop a sense of efficacy, some confidence that they can impact their thinking and feelings consistently.

In fact, I really like to use the solution oriented brief therapy model at this stage of the therapeutic counseling process so we can remember a time when this issue was handled effectively.

I love to read a bit from Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s book FLOW to, if appropriate, about how the Central Nervous System processes those photons that cross the lens of the eye and excite the rods and cones in the back of the eye, those sound waves that vibrate the ear drum, the pressure of the chair and clothes on your skin, which is 1/18th second, and work with clients to discover how to change their interpretations of their sensory experience.

From there, we can begin to look at Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) or any number of paths to the goal the client wishes to achieve.

Often clients are unsure at this point that they can effectively manage thoughts and feelings for sustained periods of time, so this is where I like to teach or demonstrate heart rate variability biofeedback.

Your heart has a brain of its own, actually a sophisticated nervous system that has enough neurons to learn and make decisions independently of any other brain I have, and with a few practices on the computer, clients can see themselves managing the time between their heart beats, or the heart rate variability coherence, by paying attention to their thinking or feeling and a quick little mental check list called the Freeze Framer, and when they see that happening for sustained periods of time, and then report using it away from my office, their confidence that they can make a feeling and thinking and behavioral difference increases dramatically.

So the heart rate variability biofeedback tool helps clients to understand the extent of their potential success at feeling good early and often.

They have a success to hang their hat on, and a success that feels good too.

Clients are able to continue their inner exploration with renewed confidence.

I also like to teach at this point in the therapeutic counseling process that heart rate variability biofeedback coherence training is an important part of the process of growing new neurons, which we now know that we do every day.

The term for that process is neurogenesis, and it, along with neuroplasticity, can be encouraged by those of us who are taking care of the “pillars of brain fitness”.

So a client who is struggling with depression or anxiety or anger or addictions, for example, can get a sense of confidence about their ability to grow new neurons and new behaviors by attending to their brain fitness?

I say yes, and then I might recommend that clients read an excellent e-book called Brainfit for Life which goes into some detail about the pillars of brain fitness and how attending to them increases neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself, sometimes within minutes, when presented with a novel learning experience.

A novel learning experience is usually characterized as the kind of learning experience I have when I learn a new language or a new instrument, because of the increasing level of challenge and opportunity for the appropriate amount of positive feedback.

The authors of Brainfit for Life also talk about how computerized brain fitness programs may fit within the novel learning experience pillar of brain fitness, and go into some detail about research on the dual n back task, which has been shown to increase fluid intelligence, and can even translate into an increased IQ.

I think that therapeutic counseling can benefit by brain fitness training also.

While clients are dealing with emotional and cognitive issues, their increasing mastery of heart rate variability biofeedback and the dual n back task are increasing confidence in a their ability to impact themselves positively in important areas of their lives.

More good news, there are other brain fitness programs out there to include in the pillars of brain fitness training.

If clients are attending to all the pillars, which are physical exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, you should see a significant improvement in efficacy across the board, which is what therapeutic counseling is all about.



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