Coming to Counselling for the First Time

by Janine Wilcockson

Image – Pinterest

Just thinking about therapy for the first time can be quite a daunting experience. I know, from my own experience how confusing it can be looking through the long list of counsellors and range of therapies available. Often people who are coming to counselling for the first time may feel anxious, embarrassed, or scared. Knowing more about the process can help you to feel reassured.

Today there are more options available to you than just the traditional face to face format – such as telephone, email and Skype. Face to face remains the most popular method, with many clients enjoying the feeling of closeness to another person. However some clients prefer the anonymity that telephone and email counselling provides, and how it fits into a busy schedule. This is a matter of personal preference and you will know which feels right for you.

Common misconceptions about counselling:

“Counselling is for the raving looney”

Some people still think that counselling is only for people with serious mental health issues. Counselling can help with difficult life experiences such as relationship breakdown, bereavement, redundancy, low self esteem and feelings of guilt, fear, sadness, and anger as well as problems such as depression and anxiety. Visiting a counsellor can help you feel listened to, less alone with your problem or feelings, as if a weight has been lifted, helping you to cope during a difficult time.

Some people may worry that their problem isn’t really important enough and feel that they would be wasting the counsellor’s time. This is never the case as every problem is important, and anything that is causing you distress or impacting on your daily living is a good enough reason to seek counselling.

Help is also available with more specialist treatments for eating disorders, phobias, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

“Seeking help is a sign of weakness”

Coming to therapy can involve a lot of bravery on the part of the client and is certainly never a sign of weakness. It can be difficult to find the right therapist. Getting to know and trust them enough to discuss what is troubling you can feel like a big risk.

Finding the right therapist

Lots of information can be found on the many types of therapy but recent research shows that the most important factor in counselling is the relationship between the client and the counsellor.  

If you are able to trust your therapist and feel really comfortable with them, then you have a much greater chance of successful counselling. Trust your instincts and shop around. Do not settle for a counsellor you do not feel comfortable with. 

Some counsellors offer a free first appointment. This can be a great opportunity for you to meet the counsellor and gauge if they feel like the right person for you. You should get the opportunity to ask questions and get a taste of what counselling is like. The first session is an assessment which can be a little different to further sessions with information being taken, helping the client and therapist to check  their compatibility.

You should never feel pushed into counselling or under any obligation to start sessions immediately. You may want to contact several therapists before choosing.

The first session

At the first session the counsellor may ask you questions such as what is troubling you at the moment, what you hope to achieve from counselling, your personal history, and about your current symptoms.

Don’t be put off as this first session can involve some note taking and form filling, for example details such as contact and GP details will be required, and information such as any medication you are currently taking.

Remember this first session is also an opportunity for you to ask any questions, and your counsellor should be happy to explain anything you are concerned about.

During this first session the counsellor is likely to talk to you about confidentiality and inform you about the times when they may need to disclose information to another professional. This is usually if your counsellor has any real concerns that you are at serious risk of harm, or that another person may be harmed. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand or they fail to mention their policy on disclosure.

I hope this article may have helped in some way and I wish you well with your future counselling.

Counselling Directory

Why A Therapist Does Not Talk About Themselves

by Patrick McCurry

Image – Shutterstock

It’s become a cliché – you ask your therapist a question and they reply with another question.

For many new clients the lack of self-disclosure by the therapist can be unsettling, as the relationship can feel very one way. The therapist gets to know the most personal details of the client’s life, while the client knows very little about the therapist’s.

While the lack of self-disclosure may feel frustrating, at times, for the client, there are several reasons for it.

These include:

  • The therapist’s issues can dominate: the therapy is for the benefit of the client not the therapist, so a therapist talking a lot about their own lives could start to dominate the sessions and make it more about the therapist’s needs rather than the client’s.
  • A client taking care of the therapist: the client may end up feeling they need to ‘take care of’ a therapist who talks about their own problems or issues in sessions.
  • Therapist protection: While the client has confidentiality, the therapist does not. Whatever the therapist tells the client may be repeated to others, including future therapists the client sees.
  • The transference: part of the way many counsellors and therapists work is in exploring the ‘transference’ , which means the unconscious projections that all clients bring to their therapist and to other relationships. Helping the client see how they are projecting certain expectations can help them improve their other relationships. Too much self-disclosure by the therapist can dilute this way of working.

Despite these factors, some therapists will choose to disclose more than others. They argue that developing a warm and genuine relationship with the client means disclosing, appropriately, some information about their personal lives and experiences.

How much a counsellor or therapist reveals about their personal life will partly depend on their personality and partly on the kind of counselling or therapy they practise.

It is a generalisation, but at the least revealing end of the spectrum tend to be psychoanalysts and those working in a psychodynamic way, where exploration of the transference is usually prioritised.

At the more disclosing end of the spectrum are many humanistic and existential therapists, who believe that being more open is good for the alliance between therapist and client and helps demystify the therapist’s role.

Irvin Yalom, an existential therapist and author, says that many therapists fear that if they disclose aspects of their personal lives the client will demand more. But he adds: “In my experience the overwhelming majority of patients accept what I offer, do not press for more  or for uncomfortable disclosure, then go about the business of therapy.”

Integrative psychotherapist Michael Kahn takes a less self-disclosing approach and describes a client who continually wanted to know if he was gay. In this case Kahn decided not to answer the question and, at the end of the therapy, the client said he was glad about this as it had allowed him to explore his hopes and fears about the therapist and his own complex feelings about his own sexuality.

Of course, all therapists communicate information about themselves without explicitly stating it. Where they work, how they dress, how they respond to the client’s words will all say something about their lives and values.

What is important is that, if there is self-disclosure it needs to be in the client’s interests. And if the therapist chooses not to disclose something a client is asking about he or she needs to do this in a non-punishing way.

As Kahn says: “When I refuse to answer a question , I try hard not to look as though I were playing, ‘I’ve got a secret, so I’m one up on you’. I explain as fully as I can why I’m taking this stand.”

Counselling Directory