Starting counselling: Testing the water

Starting counselling can seem like a daunting prospect. Some individuals who present for counselling say they had been considering it for months, several years or even decades. I appreciate that the thought of engaging in private counselling can seem like a huge commitment and would have potential time and cost implications but I urge you to take that first step.


We know how this feels - all therapists have to have undertaken their own therapy (either currently or historically). Aim not to delay any further, to enable you to address those issues which may have been troubling you for a long time. In my experience, they do not disappear. On the contrary, they just seem to hover around and resurface whenever you have the free ‘headspace’ or some link to a flashback that can allow them to wander in.

Taking the first step

You can contact a therapist directly by telephone or email or submit a query via a website such as Counselling Directory or the BACP. You can also book an introductory telephone call (free of charge) to discuss your needs and goals further. This gives you an opportunity to see if you feel that you could work together with this person.

After all, you may be feeling at your most vulnerable and anxious and, therefore, want to ensure that you would feel safe and comfortable and not feel judged. A therapist can offer an environment which is confidential, and unlike talking to our family and friends.

There is no magic wand the therapist can wave but, hopefully, it will leave you feeling empowered, with more clarity, liberated and with a new-found perspective and self-awareness.

Family and friends may be well-meaning but can sometimes impose upon us. In person-centred therapy, this is termed as ‘conditions of worth’ - these are external factors, such as societal, cultural and family rules and opinions, which can affect how we value or measure our self-worth. We have to meet these conditions in order to gain acceptance, approval and positive regard from others. This is sometimes a lifelong pattern which we have held.

Some examples of these are:

  • "Men shouldn’t cry."
  • "Don’t get angry."
  • "No need to get upset… Please don’t cry."
  • "Be strong."
  • "Keep positive."
  • "Be brave."
  • "Work hard and you will become a [profession/job role]."
  • "Boys should be tough."
  • "Don’t do it that way... Do it like this."
  • "You should try… Have you not done…?"
  • "It worked for us... I can’t believe you haven’t done it like that."

The problem is, comments like these (however well-meaning) may not be reflective of how we are feeling. For instance, we may feel that there is nothing positive happening currently.

As a result, these sorts of examples can leave us feeling distressed and judged, affect our decision-making skills, give us low self-esteem, and build up anxiety and depression. This is known in therapy as an example of ‘external locus of evaluation’ - how much we need to be valued by others. Conversely, there is an ‘internal locus of evaluation’ whereby we value ourselves and know what we want and believe. This could be something you would like to explore in therapy.

I always suggest just booking and having one session initially. See how it feels for you. If it feels like a right fit and you feel that you can work with this person to explore your issues, then book more. You can review things periodically together with your therapist to ensure that your goals are being met.

There is no need to feel overwhelmed or over-committed that you may need therapy for years. There is no average - it could be just one session is all you feel that you need, or it could be something you continue for several years. We can plan mutually how you reduce the frequency, month by month.

So, if you are curious and are feeling inspired take that leap today!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Barrowford BB9 & Clitheroe BB7
Written by Gillian Gill, BA (Hons), PGDip. Counselling & Psychotherapy, Reg. MBACP
Barrowford BB9 & Clitheroe BB7

Gillian Gill
Please see Counselling Directory and BACP websites

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