Thinking of having therapy? 20 things that may surprise you
1. 'Is this the right time?' You might be considering counselling but are waiting for the ‘right time’, when you feel ready and robust to take that plunge into the unknown. Often this ‘right time’ is a fiction and you could end up passing weeks, months or years waiting for this moment to arrive. It is very usual that contacting a counsellor may bring about anxieties and fears. You may also feel embarrassed or ashamed at the thought of talking about your life. Your counsellor understands this though and will recognise the courageous step you have taken to come along to the first meeting. They will work to create a relationship with you, where you feel safe and you can begin to open up.
2. The value of the relationship. The counselling relationship is all important for your experience of counselling. However skilled, knowledgeable or qualified your counsellor is, if you don’t feel able to talk to them, your progress in therapy may be limited. So, find a counsellor you can relate to and feel at ease with.
3. 'I just want to feel better'. Often in counselling, you might feel worse before you feel better. This happens commonly and is a helpful part of progress (although you may not feel it at the time). You may have buried away some feelings, so now you are talking about them, they feel raw and overwhelming. Your counsellor will support you with empathy and a non-judgemental approach to help you feel safe to open up.
4. 'Who am I?' In counselling, you don’t have to pretend anymore that everything is okay. You might have been working hard to put on a coping front in your relationships. You can begin to find out who you are and what you think. You can begin to understand yourself and appreciate your values more fully.
5. 'I just want to be told what to do'. Your counsellor won’t tell you what to do and you might feel very frustrated about this at first. Rather they will help you listen to your own voice and help you develop this more strongly.
6. 'My counsellor has annoyed me'. You might experience different feelings towards your counsellor throughout the therapy process. At times you might feel angry or irritated. You may want to please them. You may enjoy the experience of having someone really listen to you for the first time. You possibly will idealise them and see them as very special.
7. A variety of options. There are many different styles of counselling and psychotherapy. Some approaches are long-term whilst others are short-term. Some work more in the present day and the future. Others base more emphasis on exploring your past. Some counsellors will use a combination of both of these. It is worth researching different models to see what might work for you.
8. Length of sessions. The counselling hour is 50 minutes. On occasion, you may worry about filling the time. Other times, you may wish you could have longer and not want the session to end.
9. 'I want to know my counsellor's opinion'. The counselling session is about you. Your counsellor may disclose mindfully information about them, but only if they feel this is going to be particularly relevant or helpful to you. As a consequence, you will probably learn very little about your counsellor’s life, thoughts, opinions and actions.
10. 'What I imagine'. You might fantasise about what your counsellor is like outside of therapy and wish you knew more about them.
11. 'Why isn't this working?' You may get frustrated that counselling doesn’t seem to work like revising for an exam or learning a language. Working with emotions can be somewhat unpredictable and the path can be complex and changing. You might wish for a magic wand or if someone would just tell you what to do.
12. 'How will I ever cope when therapy ends?' You may fear the end of counselling and how you might cope alone. Your counsellor will work with you towards the ending though and support you in gaining more autonomy and independence.
13. 'But I came to talk about my eating'. You may go to counselling for one problem and then find yourself talking about something else entirely along your journey. Counselling can take surprising twists and turns.
14. 'I want to run away'. You might want to run away from counselling when things get hard and tricky. Be kind to yourself if this happens. You will not be the first person to experience this by a long way. If you feel able, talk to your counsellor about this.
15. 'I didn't know I could feel this much'. You may laugh, cry, rage, envy, worry and more all in the process of counselling.
16. Vulnerability - helpful or not? Becoming vulnerable and expressing your whole self in the safety of counselling can be a transformative experience as you begin to gain self-acceptance. It possibly will feel scary too, as this is unexplored territory.
17. 'I have to do homework!' Some counselling may involve homework tasks or record keeping.
18. 'You don't have to meet face-to-face'. Counselling is often available now, not only face-to-face, but by Skype, telephone, instant messaging and email. This opens up many more possibilities for getting help (as long as you internet connection is reliable!).
19. Building resilience and emotional strength. Having counselling can provide building blocks of resilience and coping for the future. You will hope to gain better self-awareness; improved emotional intelligence; problem solving skills and a far greater understanding of the self. These benefits will ripple into your life and all your relationships.
20. Look back to see how far you have come. Change may not be as fast as you would like. Only when you look back, might you appreciate the journey. Change is not always comfortable but can bring about new beginnings and fresh, more productive ways of living.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and London.
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