The decision to come for counselling is a big step and involves commitment of time and money. Choose your counsellor carefully – research shows that the most important factor is not the style or model of training as all of these can work well, but the relationship between the counsellor and the person being counselled. Look at profiles of different therapists and their websites to help you get a sense of who they are, also important details such as their qualifications, the way they work and issues they can work with. Think about the sort of person you can connect with and feel comfortable talking to.
Next, contact the counsellor and arrange to meet - meeting the counsellor online or face to face is essential to help you decide if you feel you want to be in a counselling relationship with them and discuss whether both of you feel you want to continue for further sessions. The counsellor will ask you about your reasons for seeking counselling at this time and take brief notes of your contact details (including your GP), and medical history if relevant.
Think about your hopes and aims – before attending the first session take time to reflect on what you are hoping for from counselling and share this with the counsellor when you meet them. For example you might be looking for someone you can talk freely with, some practical ideas for coping with a situation, talk about childhood experiences or focus on present difficulties. You may have a particular goal in mind such as letting go of a painful experience from the past or coming to a decision about a relationship. Sharing this at the start will help the counsellor decide if they are the right person to help you and if their style of counselling can suit your needs.
You may find you feel an initial sense of relief after sharing your situation with the counsellor. Many people begin to notice positive changes in their thoughts, feelings or behaviour after just a few sessions. Issues and problems which are more complex or have been going on for a long time can take longer to resolve.
Counselling can involve talking about painful memories and difficult emotions, you may feel vulnerable at times during counselling. This is a normal part of the healing process – painful emotions often need to be expressed and experienced before they can be resolved. Your counsellor will help you feel safe with painful emotions and discuss ways of taking care of yourself at these times. Try to stay with these difficult feelings so you can experience them and learn to let them go.
Give feedback to your counsellor – it can be hard to be really honest with your counsellor but if you can share both what is helpful and what is not helpful in the counselling this will give important information about the best ways of working with you, enabling you to gain more benefit. Sessions may be long or short term, depending on how much work you want to do at this time. Some people need short-term work lasting a few weeks or months, while others will want to work for much longer periods.
People gain most from counselling when they come regularly as this allows a trusting relationship to be built up more quickly. If due to financial reasons or time constraints you prefer to attend fortnightly rather than weekly this is definitely still worthwhile and then in time many people still like to come to touch base less frequently. Reflect between sessions to gain maximum benefit and find ways to continue engaging with the process on your own between sessions. For example, take time to reflect on how you found each session, key issues that came up, new insights that you gained, questions you were left with. You may find it helpful to keep a journal to record thoughts, feelings and events that occur between sessions.
Finish well as this is an important part of the work. We often experience unplanned and painful endings in life and counselling provides an opportunity to “end well”, to have a final session to review and reflect on the counselling journey and to celebrate the changes you have made in your life!
What to Expect ...
Helping You Grow
"Our sadness is an energy we discharge in order to heal. ...Sadness is painful. We try to avoid it. Actually discharging sadness releases the energy involved in our emotional pain. To hold it in is to freeze the pain within us.'"
-- John Bradshaw