If you’ve never had counselling before, it can feel quite daunting if you don’t know what to expect in your first counselling session. Starting the counselling process is a big step, it might be that you’ve been considering for a long time that you there are some areas that you would like some help with. Perhaps you have suffered with depression, anxiety or low self esteem for years but you’ve been trying to cope with it alone.
The good news is that counsellors are generally aware of how overwhelming it can be contacting a counsellor for the first time – many counsellors as part of their training undergo the process of psychotherapy for a number of years and have experienced what it feels like to be on the other side.
With this in mind, your first contact whether over the phone or in person should help to put some of these anxieties to rest.
The initial meeting/consultation is designed to find out more about you, and it might mean that the counsellor will ask you more questions than you might get in a usual counselling session.
Typical questions might include information around your family history, medical history, current or past relationships and your current situation. This is designed to find out more about you, and to find out whether they are indeed the right therapist to help, or whether they might need to refer you on to another service or colleague who might be more skilled in a particular area.
Sessions usually last for 50 minutes (for individual therapy) and several things will be discussed as part of the therapeutic contract, such as the frequency of sessions, confidentiality and the fees involved. It is common practice for therapists to have a cancellation policy, which you would be informed of at this first meeting. Contracting is a very important part of the therapeutic process, it sets the boundaries and expectations of what the counselling relationship has to offer.
The first session is a great opportunity for you to ask any questions that you might have perhaps about the counsellors’ experience, or how they think they might be able to help you. If there is anything you are unsure of, it’s always a good idea to ask, not only is it a good idea for clarification, it will also be a good indication for both you and the therapist to identify if you are a good ‘fit.’
It is very important that you feel comfortable talking to and being in the presence of your therapist, at times the process can be challenging and you may find there are times when you feel vulnerable. It will be important that you feel safe and metaphorically held during times of crisis or emotional distress. You might be wondering why this would make any difference to your therapy, but many research studies reflect that an important aspect of good therapy depends on the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
Be prepared to talk about yourself, as unusual as that feels at first to not have a two way conversation as you would in a social setting, the therapeutic process offers a different experience, where the space you have with a counsellor is just for you. Although the focus is one-sided the therapist will still be engaged and offer encouragement if you get stuck. Believe it or not, once you get started the fifty minutes go by much quicker than you think.
Once you have that first session, you are under no obligation to continue if you feel the counsellor isn’t right for you, that decision is yours.
Be open and as honest as you can about the experience and you’ll do just fine.
You can read more about how to choose the right therapist for you here.
If you would like to get in touch to book an appointment and have your initial consultation with me, you can email me in confidence.