Signs of a good relationship and trust with your counsellor
When you go to your first counselling session it is quite normal to feel some sense of nervousness or apprehension. There are many questions left unspoken and unanswered before you arrive. But this does not need to be an issue of major concern, if you understand that you always have the right to speak your mind, raise any questions or issues with your counsellor and make all the necessary choices available by yourself. Nothing is imposed or forced on you. And although it can be challenging at times, a good counsellor will have some sense of how to match the pace of counselling sessions to the needs of their clients (C, Rogers, 1985).
So what is so daunting about that first session? Clients may not know what is expected of them, whether they will be diagnosed with a serious mental condition, or if they are going to discover something about themselves they did not want to know. Clients sometimes imagine they will be overwhelmed by the counsellor, or the therapist will probe deeper than they are able to cope with. The truth is that whilst these doubts are based on reasonable and understandable fears, they are highly unlikely scenarios. Counsellors, on the whole are trained well to support you with empathy and compassion, as well as to challenge you appropriately and help you gain a deeper sense of self-awareness. They are not there to implant false memories, probe around for more problems than you came in with, judge you or label you as ‘crazy’.
Of course a counsellor that is too laid back, silent or non-directive will not necessarily help to challenge you. If all the counsellor does is listen with very little intervention or discussion you may want to visit a counsellor with a more direct style of engagement and contact.
Whilst many counsellors have been trained to a certain level of expertise, they are also trained to stick with the ‘client’s agenda’, and not impose their own beliefs on you. Of course, if the relationship between a counsellor and a client is truly collaborative, the issues that they work with in counselling will evolve and adapt along the way. This is sometimes useful because the client develops a clearer picture of their needs over time and sometimes due to the growing insights of the counsellor.
Whatever, the reason you go to counselling for; whatever issues you have, the most vital aspect of counselling is a sound relationship with your counsellor. Trust is vital. This means developing a good rapport, gaining a sense of confidence and feeling that your counsellor is really able to listen and understand your needs. From the very first session, you need to be able to trust your instincts and pay attention to your gut reaction. One note of caution however - remember you are vulnerable and that nervousness or anxiety can sometimes cloud your judgement or make you feel defensive. Try to be fully open and aware of the possibilities and give yourself a chance to reflect before you make any final decisions about whether you can form a good relationship with your counsellor.
What should you look for as you progress?
- the counsellor listens to you attentively and responds openly to your questions
- despite your vulnerability you have a sense the counsellor notices this an responds
- despite your concerns, you have an underlying sense of well-being and safety
- the counsellor identifies your needs and brings a sense of clarity to the process
- the counsellor helps you to understand things and feel part of the process
- you have a sense of the counsellor’s empathy and understanding
- the counsellor is reliable, trustworthy and boundaried
- you have a sense the counsellor ‘gets you’.
If the above conditions are present in the counselling sessions you need to think about how you are going to approach the sessions yourself to get the most benefit out of them. You want to ask yourself:
What do I want from these sessions?
- a greater understanding of yourself
- healing and recovery from a crisis
- better sense of self-awareness
- to change your behaviour patterns.
You also want to reflect on what attitude you want to adopt when you visit a counsellor. If you are not committed to the process, you want a ‘quick fix’, or you feel ambivalent you may find it difficult to form a working alliance with your counsellor.
What approach do you need to take in the counselling session?
- a sense of openness and freedom to explore your issues, despite nervousness
- the ability to tell your story, but not have to reveal everything in the first session
- try not to have unrealistic expectations of yourself and what you can achieve
- a sense that the counsellor has your best interests at heart
- to be free yourself of defensiveness as far as is possible.
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