How does a counselor help you create a happy life?

By David Joel Miller.

What would a life coach or counselor do to help you?

Skills coaching

Life and Recovery Coaching means learning new skills.
Photo courtesy of

The traditional way of thinking about things was that you should just automatically be well and happy and that if you were not then you were sick or there was something wrong with you. If you were sick or mentally ill then you went to the doctor and they gave you some pills to make you better.

Over the last hundred years or so, new ways of looking at things have emerged. First, there was talk therapy, the talking cure that involved going to see a counselor and talking through your issues. Still, this was mostly deficit based. You were sick and the professional was supposed to know how to fix you. The sicker you were the more you needed to talk about and the longer you needed to talk.

Recently we have seen some new trends emerging. Healthy living can keep you physically healthy and thinking more helpful thoughts might prevent the occurrence of a mental illness or at least make it get better faster. There are things you can do to work on yourself and the counselor, sometimes now a “life coach”, can help you learn how to create that better less stressful life you want.

Yes, we know that there may be some difficulties that are genetic or the result of trauma or injury, but even for those conditions, there are ways you can reduce your stress and help to keep yourself mentally well.

This new emphasis on mental wellness and recovery has gone by several names. Strength-based counseling and positive psychology are two of the prominent ones. WRAP also belongs on that list.

If you were to go to a life coach or counselor that worked from a more strength based approach how would they go about helping you?  Also, how might you go about preparing to help yourself.

1. Get clear on your values.

A beginning exercise would involve getting clear on your values. Is money important to you? Is family? Which is more important? Lots of people spend time in life pursuing goals only to find out that the things they had to do to get there were not consistent with their values.

There are several good exercises that can help you get clear on your values. You could also spend some time thinking about what is important to you. A good counselor would spend some time with you making sure you know the guiding principles of your life before sending you off on a quest for your happy life.

2. Counselors help you set goals.

Goals are about where you want to go. Values are about how you want to take the trip. Do you want to be wealthy? Why? Are you OK with cheating people to get there or is being honest more important to you than the money?

Now don’t go saying you do not want to be successful you are not all about money. There are lots of other goals that are more important to many people than money. Just if you are working hard to get a good education so you can get a good job so you can make a lot of money is that success if helping the less fortune was your value?

You could use the money to help others or you might choose to work in a program that paid less but that helped the needy.

Do you want to be a great athlete? Or is a writer more your thing? Maybe being a great father or mother is your priority. No one goal is the “best” in and of itself. Just pick the one that speaks to you and check it against the value yardstick you created in step one.

Most people have several goals and find they need to prioritize them. It takes time to reach goals and you need to be sure you work on the big ones rather than leaving those to a someday that never comes. A good counselor or life coach can help you figure this out.

3. Counselors can help you create a plan to reach goals.

Say your goal was to have more friends. Maybe you are shy and meeting people is hard. The counselor could help you devise a plan to stretch your comfort zone and begin to expand your circle of friends.

4. Counselors can aid you in learning needed skills.

Shy people often lack social or people skills. Rather than saying that this is just the way you are, we used to blame that on your being introverted, your counselor might teach you some social skills and help you create opportunities to practice these skills.

5. A counselor can monitor your progress – hold you accountable.

Having to check in each week and let the counselor know how you did on the homework or practice assignments can motivate you to keep working on your skills. Nothing so keeps you accountable as having to pay that other person each week and knowing you will be largely wasting your money if you pay to go in and tell them you didn’t do the work.

If you find you can’t or don’t want to do the required practice, that is important information for your life change project. Talk this part through and see if it is fear or if the goals are wrong or you picked goals that do not match your values. Some people at this point come to the realization that those goals are not really their goals. They are what their parents wanted for them or what they think they should be working towards.

6. Counselors assist in revising the plan as needed.

When plans do not work or when you breeze through them and decide that goal was too easy, you need to revise your plan. A good counselor can help you keep updating your plans and taking your life game to the next level.

From all these points you can see that none of this is about any diagnosable mental illness. It is about creating a happy life. People with a happy life have way less depression or anxiety and stress, well they just eat that for breakfast.

While this happy life planning may not fit well with staying sick so you can get free therapy, still it can beat the heck out of a not-happy life. Consider investing in and working on a life plan that helps you build the happy, well life you are looking for.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


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