What should you expect from a counsellor?

Recognising that you would like or need counselling is a very brave step.

It is critical that your first call or email is treated with sensitivity and responded to in a timely manner. Often this is the reason clients contact private self employed counsellors who can be responsive and are not restrictive in number of sessions offered.

Understanding how it works often alleviates some of the anxiety you may have, this article focuses on face to face counselling. There are other types such as telephone and online counselling, all the principles are the same except you will not be present in the room with the counsellor.

The BACP definition of counselling and psychotherapy is that;

'Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their well-being.’

It is also very important to check that the counsellor is qualified. Counsellors are required to be fully trained and to have demonstrated supervised practice hours to be licensed to practice. They also maintain active clinical supervision. This is to keep clients safe and counsellors work to ethical codes. Always ask when you make enquiries what qualifications and experience your counsellor has. They should also be able to demonstrate to your their insurance provider. In addition many will also provide you with their police check. If they have a website or directory listing this is also worth a look as you may be able to review some testimonials of past clients and get an understanding of what the service level is like.

Once you firm up your first appointment you will have an 'assessment'. This is to give you the opportunity to meet the counsellor and to get a sense if you would like to work with them. As therapy is based on therapeutic alliance you will receive no benefit if you do not connect with your counsellor.

At the first meeting the counsellor will 'contract' with you. This process will establish the boundaries of the relationship and set out the following;

  • Place and time to meet.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Modality of counsellor (how they work, for example Integrative - Psychodynamic, Humanistic and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
  • Ethical framework (for example BACP).
  • Cancellation policy. It is usual to expect to pay an amount of your session if you give less that 24 hours notice or do not turn up for agreed sessions.
  • Price of your session and method of payment. You should expect to pay from £25 to £60 dependant on the practice and therapist.
  • You and your counsellor will sign the contract and you should expect to receive a copy.

If you decide to proceed you then meet your counsellor/therapist for an hour every week at a prearranged time. Your sessions are confidential unless you disclose that you would harm yourself, someone else or make your counsellor aware of criminal activity. The counsellor would be expected to discuss these concerns with you before they would make onward referrals and if possible gain your agreement to disclose information with you or on your behalf.

The 'setting' is very important. This is the 'therapy room'. It should be a confidential space free from interruptions that is neutral and comfortable. This space should feel safe. The environment is carefully created to enable you to work with your counsellor as if he/she were a blank canvas and to not be distracted by items in the room such as family photographs that are not relevant to your session. The therapy is about you and you need a therapeutic setting.

Your counsellor will offer you the 'core conditions' (Carl Rogers). Simply these are attitudes that the counsellor displays that show acceptance of you the client, such as empathy a deep understanding from your perspective, congruence when the counsellor is 'real' and genuine with you, and finally unconditional positive regard meaning there is no judgement, you will be accepted as you are, period.

All of your sessions have structure even if you don't feel it. Your counsellor is using his or her skills to contain you within the hour without advising you. The session and the therapy will have a beginning, middle and an end. This is helpful particularly if you have issues that are making you feel muddled. Often clients refer to this as 'untangling' their thoughts. They have some space to think. Putting these thoughts in order and hearing them at the end is helpful.

The most important thing to remember is you are in control. If the pace is too fast slow it down. If you would like to change how you work tell your counsellor. All therapy should place the client at the centre no matter how they work. If you feel you just need to sit and let your emotions out in a session that's OK, just be, your counsellor is there for you .

Counselling can expose emotions that you maybe have tucked away in self protecting behaviour. The therapist is a skilled helper and will observe you for psychosomatic signs that you are ready to process some of your issues. Working in collaboration you and your counsellor can share this journey together. You are not alone!

When you decide to end your therapy you will plan this. Sometimes endings can be difficult and sometimes a symbol or ritual is helpful to mark the end. The length of therapy should be long enough to process the issues you brought but short enough not to create a dependence on therapy. As such it is unique, individual, just like you.

I hope you found this very brief introduction helpful and that you will now find a counsellor suitable for you and begin what can be the best journey of your life. Today is the day to make a change, go find the new you! Good luck!

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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Ballymena, BT42
Written by Deborah Oktar-Campbell, Counsellor - MSc Counselling - MBACP (Reg)
Ballymena, BT42

Deborah is a Counsellor in Private Practice. Based in Belfast she also offers therapy in Ballymena. Deborah has a BSc in Health Studies, a Diploma in Nursing and a FdSc in Counselling. She has counselled with GPs, Voluntary Sector and her own Private Practice. Deborah offers Clients a free assessment within two weeks of contact.

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