Introverts have unique abilities because they are oriented to life from a different perspective than extroverts. These differences show up in counseling. An introvert will benefit from a different approach to counseling than an extrovert. Many introverts suffer because they do not understand themselves and they are not understood when surrounded by extraverts. Introverts have less of a need for prolonged superficial contact, but they do have a need for deeper connections overall. Both males and females can be introverts. During this article, I may refer to one gender or the other at any given time, but unless otherwise noted, the material applies equally to both females and males.
An introvert is predisposed to be comfortable spending more time focused on their inner world. Introverts have a rich inner life, so they do not require as much of the external stimulation that an extravert craves. An introvert with developed self-understanding will draw strength from their personality. Well developed introverts can deal competently with the world around them when necessary, but they do their best work inside their heads and hearts, in reflection (introspection). For introverts, meaning comes from within and it anchors them in the midst of all that happens in the world.
In counseling, an introvert will usually appreciate a counselor who assigns homework, reading, and study. An extravert might initially appreciate a more action-oriented approach that gets them doing something so they can learn the principles. While an introvert will benefit from an action-oriented approach, she will first benefit most from study and reflection. In an actual counseling session, an introvert will not have to work as hard to identify their internal feelings and thoughts. An introvert has access to all the pieces but may need counseling to help put the thoughts and feelings into words and to reframe them into a positive context. Along with introversion’s strengths come some weaknesses, which could be what ends up bringing the introvert to counseling in the first place.
The Introvert’s Weakness
An under-developed introvert suffers doubly. He does not naturally connect with the world and has not figured out how to how to connect with himself. Left alone, his introversion is insufficient to allow him to flourish. With only the one ability, introspection, he may overuse this ability when trying to deal with problems. For example, introverts are great reflectors, great at replaying a situation over and mining a single experience for more feedback. But taken to an extreme, reflection can become a painful re-examination, causing further psychological harm.
An introvert may believe that going through an experience in great detail will eventually result in figuring out what went wrong, or finding the insight so it “all makes sense”. He may get lost in the idea that he can heal himself. Thus an introvert is especially prone to the prideful notion, “I do not need anyone else; I am self-sufficient.” After all, introverts naturally require less constant and less frequent contact with others. An introvert can starve themselves of relationship if they do not face the truth that, despite their reduced need for superficial connection, they have a great need for regular deep and meaningful communication with others. Without practicing “talking out” their inner life, the introvert will remain under-developed.
What are Some Common Concerns that Introverts Bring to a Counselor?
* Self-Esteem – An introvert’s parents may not have known how important it is to talk to their introvert’s inner world – beyond interacting with what the child verbalizes. An introverted child needs a parent’s involvement in a different way than an extraverted child. An introverted child needs someone to help them develop their inner world through one-on-one feedback. The introvert will suffer from low self-esteem without a developed inner world. Counseling is an excellent place to further this internal maturation to the degree it was not accomplished.
* Disconnected from Others – Introverts can be lonely. This may seem surprising given that introverts require so much alone time, however, introverts with low self-esteem may tend to spend too much time alone. Spending too much time alone will reinforce the problem, for example, a lack of meaning or purpose. It is impossible to feel purpose without connection with others.
* Disconnected from Self – An under-developed introvert may not understand how to access his internal world. He does not know himself. His internal world is a gold mine waiting to be discovered. Counseling can help him develop his natural strengths.
* Shyness – Shyness is evidence of the introverts under-developed social skills and/or under-developed sense of self. In this sense, extraverts can be shy too. There is a difference between an introvert that requires downtime and an introvert that avoids most personal encounters. The former is in tune with her capabilities; the latter is avoiding the development of her capabilities. If fear and anxiety are involved, then the introvert has some work to do. If an introvert compares herself to extraverts, she will likely internalize the belief that something is really wrong with her. The more this happens, the more she will feel shame – for who she is, not just for what she does (or does not do). Recovery begins with realizing introversion is a legitimate personality type. A recovery goal is to enjoy socializing appropriately to one’s temperament.
* Perfectionism – An introvert may be especially hard on himself. This can be especially true if he is already isolated. A perfectionist lacks self-acceptance. Counseling can help by providing an objective perspective on his introspection.
Tips on How Introverts Can Get the Most out of Their Counseling
Everyone is different, so even among introverts, some may appreciate these tips to different degrees. But overall, the tips should help introverts make the most of their counseling experience.
- Bring a notepad/journal to a session – take notes
- Speak up when you need more time to reflect on the current theme, or have a more important concern to discuss
- Let your counselor know when you are starting to share your private thoughts – that typically no one else hears
- Let your counselor know if you are having a hard time sharing your private thoughts
- Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings
- Reflect on what happened in session during the week – write down what you are learning
- Make a list of new questions or concerns and bring it with you to your next session
- Ask your counselor for direct feedback
- Be willing to try something new or different that you may not otherwise consider
- Consider the treatment goal of pushing yourself to find and develop more relationships (if you are too isolated)