Post by: Philip Mitchell, LPC

Everybody loves a good deal. Hop over to the local mall and you’ll see several signs proudly boasting a fantastic sale. Even better, turn on the television and you’ll quickly find yourself swimming in the gooey cheeses of a thousand Papa John’s pizza commercials.

Whether negotiating for a new car, couponing for groceries, or getting a hefty discount on a summer vacation, maximizing potential benefits seems to be encoded into our very DNA.

While we seem to have become rather adept at employing this skill to purchase material goods, we sometimes fail to use this hardwired behavior to fully benefit other areas of our lives.

We may not notice, but we leave a few points on the table by not maximizing positive life experiences. Some moments may seem fairly innocuous, such as choosing to purchase bread rather than learning to bake it (see: yeast, flour, water, luck). But they can be as serious as neglecting to ask the doctor for tips on boosting our cardiac health (see: run nonstop until you reach Alaska).

You’re probably asking: “What does this have to do with family counseling?” It’s a fair question, but in doing so perhaps consider this as well:

How would things be different if you maximized the quality of your life experiences rather than focusing solely on increasing benefits from deals or sales? More specifically: How would the experience of family counseling be for every participant if they were just as prepped and inquisitive as when they went bargain hunting?

For 8 years I’ve worked with parents frustrated by their teens and, in many cases, vice versa. These are fathers, mothers, and young people who, despite their genuine love and appreciation for one another, are past the point of pulling their hair out in despair.

It’s the counselor’s mission to help families identify the puzzles they’re trying to solve, but too often the therapeutic change is strangled by a lack of clarity and intentionality.

Usually, when this happens parents can become despondent, teens become reluctant to participate in sessions, and the process sours. The fault lies with no single party, but the potential benefits of the therapy experience could have been fully realized by keeping just a few key bits of knowledge in focus.

Effective Family Counseling Tip #1: Have a Goal

So you’ve come to counseling because you and your family are having some issues? Awesome. But more specifically: what is it, specifically, that you and family want to improve over the next few weeks? The issues may range from dreadful report cards to “helicopter parenting.”

But the problems families bring into the office often conceal questions of more significance: “What’s the best way for me to get my point across to my mom?” “How do I teach my son the value of work?”

Effective Family Counseling Tip #2: Do the Homework

Remember the training montage in “Rocky” where Stallone is chasing chickens and running outside in 40-degree weather while sporting the famous grey sweats? That’s therapy homework! Therapists may give families an assignment to complete outside of session. This provides the opportunity to practice new patterns of interacting, setting good boundaries, or getting some insight into improving relationships. It may seem silly, but taking advantage of homework is like getting in extra reps at the gym (If, you know, you’re into the gym and exercise stuff).

Effective Family Counseling Tip #3: Be Prepared (to Screw Things Up)

Guess what? You’re not perfect and neither is your teen, and that’s okay. Too often we’re susceptible to throwing in the towel if things don’t immediately change. The same is often true with progress in therapy. If the most recent session was tense or if the homework felt uncomfortable, try sticking with the process and discussing the bumpy ride with the counselor at your family’s next session.


Family counseling can be an incredibly enriching experience capable of producing powerful changes for parents and their children. Being intentional about the change process is an essential part of maximizing the benefits of counseling experiences. So don’t be discouraged to take on homework assignments, remember that the process can be emotionally messy, and keep a clear goal in mind and heart. It may not mean a monetary discount or extra savings, but the life benefits are priceless.

Could Family Counseling help your family?

Contact us to set an appointment with Family Counselor Philip Mitchel, LPC, or one of our other therapists at LaunchPad Counseling in Richmond, VA. You can also sign up online, and we will give you a call to schedule an appointment time. We love to help people feel better and enjoy life!