Episode 131 How To Optimize Your Holistic Counseling Sessions: Solo Episode By Chris McDonald

Jul 14, 2023

How can you level up your holistic counseling sessions? What steps can you take to go beyond typical therapy approaches and optimize your client sessions?


  • What does it mean to optimize your therapy sessions? 1:28

What Does It Mean To Optimize Your Therapy Sessions?

  • How to create the best environment for your client sessions
  • The importance of having a thorough client assessment process 
  • How to create a clear holistic treatment plan
  • Integrating goals into your client’s treatment plans
  • The importance of supporting without judgment
  • Continuing professional development as a practitioner

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Chris McDonald: Are you wanting to continue to level up your holistic counseling sessions but aren't sure what the next steps are? In the solo episode, I bring to you some keys to creating a therapeutic experience that goes beyond traditional counseling approaches, nurturing the mind, body, and spirit of your clients.

In today's episode, I will discuss how you can foster holistic wellbeing and facilitate change. Whether you're a seasoned practitioner or just starting your holistic counseling career, this episode is for you. So get ready to discover the secrets of optimizing your holistic counseling sessions. Let's do this.

This is Holistic Counseling, the podcast for mental health therapists who want to deepen their knowledge of holistic modalities and build their practice with confidence. I'm your host, Chris McDonald, licensed therapist. I am so glad you're here for the journey.

Welcome to today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. Today is a solo episode and I'm gonna talk to you about some of the best practices for optimizing your holistic counseling sessions. I wanna give you a little peek behind the curtain on how I optimize my and some of my strategies and how I approach therapy.

Maybe a little bit different from more traditional approaches, cuz maybe there's something out of today's episode that you could apply today in your sessions. In your practice. So what does that mean to optimize? So for me it's creating the environment and experience that supports a client's overall wellbeing.

That's help facilitating a space where clients feel comfortable enough to go deeper. Cuz if we're not going deeper with clients, Are we really providing therapy or counseling, or are we just chit-chatting and remembering that just chit-chatting with someone doesn't necessarily mean it's therapy.

Inventing sessions, as you know, really don't help clients to go deep and to really work through their issues. It's kind of a short term, Ooh, I feel a little better. Like when you talk to a friend and we all do that. Of course, we all need that space. But I think remembering and reminding clients that if we wanna go deeper, we gotta go beyond.

What's in the surface, right? What, what is it initially they're coming for? And as you move through therapy process, you realize that yeah, there's a lot more underneath. It's like digging through the weeds to find what's underneath, what's growing beneath. So, and I think this is what also helps encourage the personal growth of our clients.

If we help them to facilitate and optimize our sessions to the best of our ability to best help set this up for them, then they're gonna be able to reach their goals sooner. And be able to get that relief that they're looking for and that you're trying to help them achieve. So let's start from the very beginning.

A very good place to start. I had to say that. So my holistic counseling starts with the assessment, the intake. I believe in a comprehensive assessment if you're a holistic practitioner. So what does that mean? So traditionally we do get some background. I know some people go a little bit deeper. Some people are more surface and don't wanna get a whole information ahead of time.

I like to know ahead of time. That's just my way. I have a holistic intake form that provides information on. Really focused assessment of the background, but looking at physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and really going deep with those. But to do this in one session, I think is really difficult for me.

I like to see it as a process over three sessions. I know that's not possible for everybody and where you are and who you work for if you're not in private practice, but for me, it helps. To take the pace down a little bit. I don't feel rushed or have to cut the client off to say, oh, we need to get to the next question.

So really making sure to be present and not be rushing through the assessment process. And as you build the rapport, of course you can go a little bit deeper. I think, but you don't wanna jump in too much in the beginning, as we all know, that that can really cause clients to feel overly vulnerable maybe, and cause more heightened anxiety.

So looking at for holistic assessment, lifestyle, asking about exercise habits, how often are they doing this? And really just trying to get more specific with all of this, not just if they exercise. Well, okay, so they do exercise, but how often, so they may say they ride bikes. Well, how often do they ride a bike?

Is it once a year that's really gonna give you a greater picture? Or is it weekly? Is it daily sleep hygiene? How many hours of sleep are they getting per night? Are they. Able to get to sleep or wake up a lot. So getting more clear, more specific questions cuz of course if they are getting seven to eight hours, great but we don't wanna close the book.

We wanna really get detailed on that and how often are they waking up and how long does it take to get to sleep? Cuz that's of a big consideration. And again, knowing that sleep impacts everything, mind, body ends. Spirits, and I always talk to clients about the importance of that and eating habits. How often are they eating?

If a client has high irritability, I'm gonna take a wild guess for a lot of them that they're not eating enough. Especially females traditionally are known to not eat enough and many have body image issues and fear gaining weight, so they may limit, restrict their eating. And of course, when we're hungry and not eating enough, we're undernourished.

That can increase the likelihood of irritability. I know I've seen a lot of clients who don't eat anything all day and wait till dinnertime, so of course they're gonna be irritable. They're not eating enough. And if they're not drinking enough water, that's another thing to consider asking about how much water do you drink daily?

Cuz if they're dehydrated too, that's gonna. Bring their resource, inner resourcing down too. Cause they're gonna be more tired. And then if we're tired, we're irritable. So looking at a holistic lifestyle because the, some of this can be the cause of some of these emotional reactions or lowering that window of tolerance so that they may be more reactive to stress because they're not eating enough, not drinking enough water, not moving and just sitting in front of Netflix for 12 hours.

Cause that's another thing if, if you find out that. You know, they like to watch streaming, which is fine, or games. That's fine. Really getting into the coping of that, that, yeah, that's cool to check out and numb yourself with those for short term. But if you're doing that for four or five hours a day or longer, then that becomes not a healthy coping skill.

So that can cause. More depression research has shown, and I let clients know that as well. So I think being careful with coping skills. Cause it's easy to be like, oh, great, they're using a coping skill, woo-hoo. But that may not be what it, how often are they using? Is it overly done? Are they trying to distract themselves out of feeling emotion?

That's the other thing to consider. So just knowing, the more you can get through your assessment, the more clear the treatment plan can be. Cuz a lot of times they come into therapy or counseling, whichever term you use, and they say, I wanna work on anxiety. But then you find out, whoa, hang on a second. We need to work on more self-image as a goal as well.

And, and talking to them about that as they, you keep hearing their inner voice that's criticizing them constantly. So getting super duper clear and of course, Once you have this clear assessment, then you can look into the treatment plan, a holistic treatment plan. The more clear we can be, the more helpful it's going to be to to give better outcomes.

Cuz if we're super vague or just use their goals that they create, they say, I wanna feel better. Too vague. So we need to consider how can we get that more clear? And a lot of times after they fill out my assessment, what I do in the first session is just kind of ask more clarifying questions, open questions, trying to really make sure I understand what they mean by each thing and not just taking it as that's what they mean.

Cuz I don't know. I need to really know for sure. So just think of the clarifying, how important that is for your assessment. And then the treatment plan. So making sure to address the physical, emotional, spiritual aspects. Now, the spiritual part, I always ask in my assessment, are you comfortable discussing religion or spiritual spirituality in sessions?

If they say no, then we don't touch that. But let's say that a client does wanna incorporate that and maybe they've used praying and meditation as practices, but they only do it like once a month, so you could talk with them to see. Would that be something you'd like to incorporate as part of your holistic treatment plan?

To, to help them with the coping, right? Or is there some things that they maybe came to you because they wanna learn more about mindfulness or breath work or even some of these things outside of therapy, like maybe they wanna go to an energy healer, but they keep thinking about it, but haven't gone or get more massages regularly.

But they haven't been doing that. So again, these could be part of them so that they have some accountability, knowing that this is part of their holistic treatment plan. And of course for self-improvement, if they wanna learn more about how to be a Reiki provider or this could be part of that as well.

So they're trying to learn to help others and to help themselves as well. And again, knowing that each client is different. So we have to individualize this and. Work on this together for them. Cuz you don't wanna create all these goals just for them cuz that's not gonna work either. So this is a collaborative process and personalizing one size does not fit all for holistic treatment plans or regular treatment plans.

And discussing with clients the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. Helping them know that in one area is more weak, that it's not addressed in their life, that it's going to impact. The others. I think that is really important too, to really help them understand more about what it means. To be a holistic counselor and how it impacts overall wellbeing and how a lot of these integrative practices really can help align that MINDBODY connection.

And because a lot of times, and I'm sure you've heard this as well from clients, that they get stuck in their head. They overthink things, ruminate. Especially if you see clients with anxiety, if they're in their head too much, they need to think about incorporating practices to get more into their body, which that could bring you to.

Sharing some grounding practices, some other somatic modalities. But if, if those. Holistic things aren't, you're not interested in those. That's okay. You could make it part of their treatment plan that they go to yoga once a week or do some yoga at home. So figuring out what works for them, where they need to be.

And part of my holistic practice is I help clients find ways to develop these holistic routines. That can really help them to get, be more emotionally regulated to develop that inner resource. So their window tolerance is much bigger cuz they can't come to therapy and just say, Hey, thanks for the breath work therapist, that was great.

No, they need to practice that on a regular basis. Ideally, if they have anxiety, breathwork should be done on a daily basis. In my experience, it's hard to get clients there, but that's, that's the goal, right? So part of the goal on the treatment plan should be to develop these practices on a regular basis.

So that means that you could be the accountability person, say, Hey, how are you doing with this goal? And what else do we need to do to help you be more consistent? And just having some of those strategies available for them. What is the area they're struggling in now, this leads me to


Chris McDonald: Sometimes there's that low motivation piece. They know what makes them feel good. They know what brings them joy, but they're not doing it. So mo low motivation may be causing that. So that leads to more behavioral activation for depression, which I won't get into that here, but that's a, is a whole other.

Realm with treatment for depression is really trying to get them to do some of these practices and accomplishment things on a daily basis. Connection with others and being able to make a plan for those when they're gonna do each thing, which is how we get to be consistent. Right? So deciding a set of allowing it to float in our heads, Hey, I wanna do yoga daily.

That's great, but when are you going to do this? What time for how long? And then setting yourself up for success. So if they want to do yoga, to have the clothes ready, to have the mat ready to have the video downloaded, whatever's gonna make the practice easier. Just keeping that in mind. Or maybe it's journaling.

You wanna help them get a journaling practice going through those questions about when, where, and how are they gonna do this and what happens? If they lose a day, they don't do it one day. So talking about that too without judgment. So of course we're not here to judge them or ridicule them. We're here to support them and offer alternatives to help them be consistent with these lifelong practices.

I hope this all makes sense, and I'm sure a lot of you are doing these things already, but just know that this is another realm of holistic counseling, is helping them develop practices that really support their mind, body, spirit, in their self-healing and journey and empowerment. Right, and that's why I give therapeutic homework so they can practice these skills outside of therapy and be able to, to really dig into these tools.

I know a lot of people don't like that word homework, but for me it just, Makes sense. I'm not gonna use a fancy word. I had a therapist I went to that said, I'm giving you a prescription, not homework. Cuz she didn't think that homework. I was like, no, just call it homework. It's okay. Everybody knows what homework is.

It's all right. And again, as part of a therapy session, making sure to get regular feedback on effectiveness. So this could be through scaling, so PHQ nines or gds, depending on their age. And just if it, if you're seeing kids getting feedback from the parents as well. How are things going in therapy for you?

That could be a question. What do you think would make therapy better? So really keeping that open dialogue where clients feel comfortable sharing their needs, concerns, progress. And of course asking on a regular basis is not a terrible thing. Not every session, but you know, just really checking in, saying, whoa, we've been seeing each other now for three months.

Let's really look at this and where you are, where you're going, where you've been, and how can we get you even more closer towards your goals? And the next one I wanted to mention was for you, the practitioner. To make sure that you're continuing your professional development. And I'm not saying just get freebies that don't matter to you, that you're just, you just want it for this, the continue education credit, which we've all done that Guilty, but think about how can you.

Stay updated with the latest research techniques, modalities you've been putting off, putting off saying you can't afford it. So try to find ways around the barriers to get more training for yourself. For me, with yoga, breath work, meditation, it's a lifelong journey of practice and for me, it's my personal life.

And professional life. And I'm constantly learning and, and I'm passionate and love it, so it doesn't feel like work to me. So you wanna make sure that, you know, if, if you're going towards something it feels like work and it's heavy and you put it off, then maybe that's not for you and that's okay. You know, just being aware of where you are with this and keeping up with that.

And sometimes, unfortunately, you might have to do more hours of professional development if CEEs aren't offered for some of these holistic treatments. Which I know sucks, but it's important that you continue your learning to best help your clients. And remember, optimizing holistic therapy sessions is an ongoing process.

So again, it takes self-reflection on your part and on the client's part, just kind of refining things in the room and just trying to meet their needs as best you can. The more you learn. You're, the more you're gonna be able to help them, the more effective therapy's going to be. So this will help them to feel supported and empowered to really, really maximize the effectiveness of your sessions and their wellbeing.

I hope you found this episode helpful. I could go on with this, but I'm trying to keep my solo episodes shorter. I know a lot of you have said you like the shorter episodes, so I'm really trying to respect that. And I know not everybody has time for the longer ones, but so just think in your life, what are some changes that you could do today to help you optimize your holistic counseling sessions?

What would that look like? Is there some things you've been thinking about doing or maybe. You're trying to be more intuitive and doubting yourself. So just, just be thinking of that and make a planning and gradually make these changes doesn't have to be a complete overhaul overnight. And this brings us to the end of another episode, so be sure to tune in next Wednesday.

When another episode drops, I hope you got a lot out of today's episode. If you're wanting to optimize your holistic counseling sessions, it can help to have a holistic intake form. Having great intake forms are an essential part of building a relationship with your clients and help you get a clear picture of mind, body, and spirit of where they are and the goals that will help empower them.

I took the work out of creating these forms for you. This form includes comprehensive intake questions, unique to holistic counseling. Including questions about physical issues, mental concerns, and spiritual questions, go to HC podcast.org/holistic intake today and download it for just 29 95. This is Chris McDonald sending each one of you much late in love.

Till next time, take care. The information in this podcast is for general educational purposes only, and is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guest are giving legal, financial counseling, or any other kind of professional advice. If you need a professional, please find the right one for you.

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