What to expect when you go for counselling
I recently had a client who told me that they had Googled ‘what to expect during your first counselling session’ before they came for that first session. So I thought this would be a good topic to look at. Here are some hints and tips about what to expect during your first counselling session.
- It’s normal to wonder what you are about to get yourself into. Making that first step to go for counselling can be a very brave move to make. Nerves, anxiety, fear, excitement, hope and many other feelings might be floating around. What will my counsellor be like? Will they understand how I’m feeling?
- During your first session, your counsellor will want to know some things about you, this is so they can assess whether they can work with you for as many sessions as you go on to need. They will be looking at what your needs are and measuring that up against their experience to make sure that they can put your welfare first. It’s unusual for a counsellor to feel that their skills don’t match your needs, but if they feel that you need extra support that they can’t give you, they will talk you through that process. Ultimately your safety and welfare is the top priority.
- That first session is also for you to assess your counsellor. Do you like them? Do you feel that you can spend several sessions with this person and be able to trust them with your personal problems? You may not be able to answer that straight away, but trust your instincts. Good therapy is all about the relationship you build with your counsellor, if there is trust there the deeper work you can do.
- During your first session, your counsellor will be interested in finding out about your story, perhaps looking at what has brought you to counselling at this specific moment in your life. They will also be interested in finding out what your goals are for counselling. A useful way of thinking about what you want to get out of your counselling is to think about how you might know when you’re ready to leave.
- Being realistic about your goals for counselling can also seep over into understanding that there is a process ahead. It will require a commitment from you to delve deeper into some of the problems that have been troubling you. Having a counsellor to accompany you on that journey means that you will never be alone in looking at some of the more painful parts of your life.
- Paperwork. There may be some paperwork to fill out. Some counsellors will do a specific measuring of goals via a questionnaire type sheet, looking at how you are feeling now so that can be compared with how you are feeling each week or at the end of the counselling. Some counsellors make notes during the session others won’t. Generally there will be a contract to sign, which lays out in black and white the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. This might include things like confidentiality and its exceptions, time boundaries, what to do if you can’t attend a session. The counselling contract doesn’t mean you are contracted to carry on with counselling, you are free to leave at any time. If you do start to feel that perhaps this is the wrong time for you for counselling, or perhaps you might like to try a different counsellor, it can be really beneficial to talk to your counsellor about how you are feeling.
- Ask questions. What do you want to know from your counsellor? Is it important for you to know how they work? What will they expect from you? Does your idea of what counselling is, match up with how they work? The more you explore together the better your chances of having a good therapeutic relationship. Feel free to ask them anything. Your counsellor won’t necessarily be sharing any of their personal lives with you, and that is very important that they don’t. The therapeutic relationship is one that is very different to any other relationship, and your counsellor will be able to explain that in more detail.
- Every counsellor during their training should have had counselling themselves, so they have experienced what it is like to be in your seat. Counselling can be really exciting to go on a journey of self discovery, it can be life changing, and it can also be hard work, emotional and challenging.
I hope these few pointers might alleviate some of those first time nerves. Your counsellor will be looking forward to meeting you and they will feel that it is an honour to accompany you on your journey for however long they get to go on it with you.
About the author
I am a private practitioner working under the banner of humanistic therapy, with a focus on person centred and existential therapy. I specialise in working with self esteem issues and gender identity.
I am passionate about counselling, I enjoyed my own time as a client even during the painful moments, moving towards self-awareness is empowering.
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