What can I expect from counselling?
If you have not had any counselling before then the idea of starting therapy can be very daunting. Often it can leave you full of questions about what will happen in the session and what counselling is really about. I have written this article to provide an idea of what you can expect.
Why is counselling helpful?
First of all, it is important to note that counselling can be helpful for a multitude of extremely complex and wide-ranging issues. When I’ve discussed this subject with my friends they’ve often admitted that they would like counselling themselves but didn’t feel the issues they would bring to counselling would be serious enough. If the problem is important to you, that is enough justification alone to take it to counselling. What may seem unimportant to one person might be highly important to another and that is part of the beauty in being human.
So whether you wish to talk to a counsellor about depression and anxiety or to just use it for an hour to get things off your chest, counselling can be a great outlet.
Booking your first session
When booking your first session the counsellor will probably ask you a few questions either on the phone prior to your first appointment or in a consultation appointment. The questions they may ask are: Have you had counselling before? What is your main reason for wanting to come to counselling? Do you have any medical diagnoses? Are you on any medication?
Questions like these are asked so the counsellor can get a better understanding of what you are looking for and if counselling is the right thing for you.
There are numerous different models of counselling and many counsellors have their own specialities such as working with a specific type of group e.g. working with trauma or with the LGBT+ community are a few examples. By asking these questions the counsellor can make sure they are best suited to what you are looking for. If they feel you would be better suited to someone more qualified in a specific area, the counsellor should signpost you on how to organise this.
What happens in a counselling session?
In your first session, you will most likely sign a contract. This contract is so the client and counsellor both have a clear agreement of what will happen in the sessions. It should outline specific details such as the type of therapy offered, confidentiality agreements, payment contracts and both the client and counsellor should provide contact details for use when necessary. You may have to provide your GP details but this should only be used in case of an emergency. The contract is put in place to help an individual who may not have had any counselling before get a better understanding of what to expect from their sessions and to protect the client and counsellors safety.
Counselling sessions can often cover very emotional topics and I’d like to reassure you that it is perfectly normal to cry in a session. You might not be covering topics that make you tear up, however, if you do, remember this is completely typical and the counsellor will feel more than comfortable with you being able to express your tears in the session. You will not be the first client to cry in their room and you definitely won’t be their last. This is a very normal part of therapy.
Tears often burst out in the first session as you feel a release from being able to talk about topics you may have been not able to discuss before or have held in for a long time. This is completely normal and the therapist will most likely be pleased that you feel comfortable enough to express this emotion in the session.
After sessions are concluded it is normal to feel low. Some weeks you will feel a weight has been lifted off your shoulders and come out feeling really positive. Some weeks you will cover emotional topics and come out feeling the opposite. However, this should only be a short term reaction to the counselling session and overall you should be noticing a positive therapeutic change. It is important to keep checking in with yourself throughout the process to check whether counselling is having a positive impact on you.
As the sessions continue and you become more comfortable talking with your counsellor the sessions will start to flow more. However, there may be some topics that you struggle to open up and talk about, no matter who you are talking to. If there is an element you would like to explore but you’re not sure why or where to start, creative methods can be a great help. Things like using props, tools or worksheets can often provide a bit of guidance on how to explore topics you may struggle with.
You can ask your counsellor what creative methods they can offer you and they should leave it to you to pick and choose when you would like to use them. The session is yours and you should be the one guiding how you want to use that session each week including what you talk about and how you explore it.
How do you know if you're ready to stop counselling?
Ideally ending therapy will come naturally and as the client, you will start to notice when you feel comfortable with ending your sessions. Often individuals like to slowly decrease how regularly they see their counsellor and phase the sessions out. It is important to know if you are not getting what you need from counselling. If after a few sessions you start to realise it’s not something you want to continue at that moment in time you should feel completely comfortable discussing stopping your sessions with your counsellor. Often this can offer you some clarity over why you wish to stop coming.
Finally, I shall end on the best bit of advice I was ever given. Do not be afraid to change counsellors. In many cases, counselling will be a positive therapeutic process but in some cases, you and the counsellor might just not click. Sadly too many individuals decide counselling did not help them when really it was just a mismatch between counsellor and client. So on that note, follow your gut instinct, trust in the process and hopefully counselling will have a positive impact for you. I hope this article helps provide you with a better insight on what to expect from counselling.
Want to know more? Read Happiful's 5 questions to ask yourself when searching for a counsellor. Good luck.
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