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.
A good indication that you might benefit from therapy could include:
- noticing a significant change in your sleep pattern
- a significant change in mood
- a lack of motivation
- feeling angry
- persistent worry
- intrusive or suicidal thoughts.
When you begin to feel as though something isn’t right, you begin to isolate yourself, feel down and deeply sad for the majority of the time and see a decline in the quality of your relationships also provides a good indicator that it’s time to seek some support from a qualified professional.
Although there has been a public shift in recent years on the perception of counselling and psychotherapy and the positive impact it has on wellbeing, there is still a misinformed stigma attached to actively reaching out for help.
There are many myths related to counselling, which prevents people from getting the necessary help that they need, often putting off accessing help until they reach the point of crisis, which can be detrimental to mental health. Research suggests that the earlier you seek therapeutic intervention, the more likely you are to make a full recovery.
The good news is that counsellors are generally aware of how overwhelming it can be contacting a counsellor for the first time – the majority of experienced counsellors as part of their training undergo the process of psychotherapy for a number of years and have experienced first hand what it feels like to be on the other side.
With this in mind, your first contact with a potential therapist, whether over the phone, or in person should help to put some of these anxieties to rest.
The initial consultation
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.
How you can get the most out of your first session
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.’
At this point, it is okay for you to be a little cynical about the process of therapy, it’s also very healthy to ask questions and be inquisitive, I’ve written an article on the process of therapy and what you can expect from the counselling process if you would like to read more about it here.
The right therapist for you will certainly welcome having an open dialogue and will not have any problems addressing any concerns or thoughts you might have.
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.
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and I’m a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I work collaboratively with my clients to uncover self destructive behaviours, to assist with mental health and wellbeing and improving relationships. I’m an integrative therapist working with adults on an individual or couples basis. If you would like to find out more about me and how I work with my clients you can find it here.