Some Tips for the Beginning of your Counselling / Psychotherapy
Beginnings can be very difficult. If things happen too fast at the start, it may scare us away. If it's too slow, we may run out of patience. If it's too big, we may become suspicious. Too small might feel insignificant. But life is made of a succession of beginnings, coming in all shapes and sizes. There is no running away from them. If there is something to go through in life, there will be an eventual beginning. And the more experienced we become, the more we realise that every beginning has its own timing and size, and we should learn never to despise them.
But this little article is not here to 'philosophize' about beginnings in general, but to point to a few practical and important aspects at the start of each counselling or psychotherapy. There are important considerations to be made, from how it feels to how you should benefit from the beginning of your treatment as much as you can. So here are a few tips to make the most of your therapy from the beginning.
1- Realizing you may need help.
This can be considered the first step towards seeking the help of a counsellor or psychotherapist. However, it is not an easy one. It does take time for us to be able to see the extent of our circumstances, and even more to accept that at times we can' solve our problems on our own. It may be that you realise it through the people close to you, i.e., how your difficulties are affecting your loved ones. It may also be that you have come to the conclusion that you simply feel hopeless and helpless. Or perhaps other people have pointed out the things you need help with. However you came to this difficult and painful realization, it is an important step towards a solution. No therapy will be truly effective without the person realizing and accepting that he/she does indeed need help.
2- Choosing the right type of therapy.
There are many types of therapies available: Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic, Psychoanalytic, Gestalt, Integrative, Humanistic, etc. There are also group or individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, brief or open-ended, etc. The effectiveness of each is determined by many different aspects, so it is very important to assess what type of therapy will be more suitable relation to your personality and your particular issue, depending also on the severity of your problem. There is plenty of information on the internet about each type of therapy. Also, a good counsellor / psychotherapist will help you think about it during the assessment stage (first few sessions). He/she should be able to determine if the particular treatment provided will be beneficial for you. Your GP also may be able to help you choose the right approach.
3- Choosing the right counsellor / psychotherapist.
Alongside finding the suitable type of therapy, it is very important to find the right therapist. It's tricky to say the 'right' therapist, because this is based in very individual aspects. But generally speaking, try to seek counsellors / psychotherapist who are registered or accredited members of reputable professional bodies. Some of the UK professional bodies that you can rely on are: BACP, UKCP, BPC, BPS, HPC. Being a member of a professional regulatory organization means that the counsellor / psychotherapist has enough experience and training to practice independently. A professional body will also be 'on top' of the therapist, requiring him/her to abide by clear ethical guidelines and to maintain their standards of practice (i.e. participating in continuing professional development programs).
4- The first sessions.
When you have decided what type of therapy to pursue, and have found and made contact with a suitable counsellor / psychotherapist, you will then be invited to attend an initial meeting. This can be anxiety provoking, as it is not easy to 'pour out your soul' to someone you just met. The therapist won't expect you tell him/her about your whole life in the first session, but it will be a good opportunity for you to tell your counsellor / psychotherapist the things you want help with. It is important that you are as honest as possible. It may be anxiety provoking, but counselling and psychotherapy is about sharing and being listened to in a confidential and non-judgmental way. Believe me, an experienced therapist has heard a good share of things in his/her practice. Although your problem is unique, it shouldn't be enough to shock the life out of an experienced counsellor / psychotherapist.
5- See how you feel.
The first few meetings are a good opportunity to have a sense of how you feel in relation to your therapist, to know if the two of you connect. This is very subjective, but yet very important. The therapeutic relationship, although being professional, can be a very strong one. And it should be if the therapy is to work. See how you feel in the first sessions. You are probably the best person to judge if the counsellor / psychotherapist is the right person to help you.
6- Go all the way.
Having just said that you can judge if a therapist can help you or not, don't pull the plug too soon if you feel like stopping in the first few meetings. Think about it first: is it pure anxiety? Is it fear? If so, of what? The mind will try to protect itself when probed. It is like when we are touched near a wound, we will naturally tend to pull the part that hurts away, to protect from pain. Your mind will try to do the same, and that might result in you dropping out too soon without both you and your therapist knowing whether you counselling or psychotherapy can help you. So it is important to go all the way, to go through the assessment stage and then with the help of the counsellor / psychotherapist decide what is the best way forward.
7- Be honest.
This links to the previous point. If you are too anxious or afraid to carry on with the first few sessions, be honest with your therapist. He/she should be able to help you understand and overcome your initial fears, and that might result in you finding the help you need. In the same way, be very honest about the things you want help with.
8- It is ok not to know.
In my experience as a psychotherapist / counselling working in London, I have come across some people who seek counselling / psychotherapy but can't actually pinpoint what they want or need help with in their lives. Perhaps it is too difficult even to be put into words. Whatever it is, throughout the assessment stage the counsellor / psychotherapist will help you lapidate your demand or need for therapy. It may not be clear to you at the moment, or you may feel you don't actually have a need for therapy, but it should become clear to you as time goes by. Many times the initial complaint will turn out to be secondary in relation to the true need for counselling / psychotherapy, and this is also an interesting and important discovery.
These are a few points to consider in the beginning of counselling / psychotherapy, from realizing that you might need help to concluding the assessment stage and embarking in the treatment. An assessment for counselling and psychotherapy normally takes 2 to 4 sessions, and this is so you have enough time to explore the things you want help with. This beginning is important and can even determine the success or failure of the therapeutic process. I hope this little article was helpful to clarify a few anxieties in relation to the beginning of counselling and psychotherapy. As an old Jewish quote says: "Do not despise the small beginnings".