What to expect from counselling

In a recent article* written by a counselling client, she reports: ‘I’d never considered counselling … I considered myself …quite able to deal with issues myself … Then my world crumbled around me … I don’t remember when the idea of counselling formed in my head, but once there, it wouldn’t go away. I was both excited and nervous and I certainly didn’t know what to expect.’

Anyone who is considering starting counselling is likely to have concerns about whether it will help them. For many, it will be their first encounter with a counsellor. Their concerns will probably be deeply personal and they will find themselves expected to talk to a complete stranger. It will feel like a big step.

‘Who else will know I am having counselling?’ ‘Will I be judged?’ ‘How much will I feel able to say?’ ‘What will the counsellor expect?’ ‘How long will I be going to counselling once I’ve started?’ ‘What if I don’t like the counsellor?’ These are just some of the questions that might come to mind.

Now, there is a wealth of information on the internet about what to expect from counselling – in discussion forums, where people can exchange experiences and opinions; through internet searches; on web sites for counselling associations (such as BACP, BAPCA and the Counselling Directory)**; on YouTube, and on the websites of counsellors themselves.

Much of this information will be helpful, some not so. It is important to bear in mind that your own experience with your counsellor will be unique – it will be your session. The counsellor should reassure you on issues such as confidentiality and impartiality, and help you to feel that, when you are with your counsellor, you are in a safe space.

I have seen a number of clients who have had counselling previously. They came back to counselling for a variety of reasons: because their earlier experience didn’t turn out to be what they needed at the time, or because counselling was only available for a limited period, or because the counsellor talked too much about technicalities instead of focusing on the client’s needs, and other reasons.

This does not necessarily mean that these earlier experiences didn’t have value, but for counselling to ‘hit the spot’ it must be centred on what the client needs at that time. That means finding a counsellor who feels right for you – someone who feels real, who offers you respect and, crucially, who you sense can empathise with where you are in your situation.

As the client I quoted above concluded after counselling, ‘… it’s all about the relationship: even if the life experiences differ, the need for empathy is the same.’

*‘In the client’s chair’, Therapy Today, February 2014
**http://www.bacp.co.uk, http://www.bapca.org.uk, http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk