What counselling involves and what you can expect

Hi! I am a counsellor within Relationship Australia Queensland’s Victims Counselling and Support Service and I wanted to write a little about what counselling actually involves and what people can expect when they book in to see a counsellor. I find this is a common question which lots of my clients like to know.

First off, let me say that it is really normal to feel anxious or apprehensive about starting a counselling process. For some people, it may be the first time they have attended counselling and they understandably don’t know what to expect. Common thoughts might include “What will counselling involve?”, “Do I have to share my whole story?”, “What if I don’t feel safe and comfortable?” or “What if my counsellor doesn’t understand?”We might also find ourselves coming up with reasons why counselling isn’t for us, including “I have tried before and didn’t like it”, “I don’t want to feel judged”, “It’s too hard”, “I’m too busy” or “My thoughts don’t matter”.

These thoughts and emotions are really normal, and if you have experienced any of these you definitely aren’t alone. Thinking about sitting down with a stranger and sharing your story can be very overwhelming; this is a natural feeling. However, counsellors are trained to be professional, respectful and to create a safe space for clients to share. They aren’t there to judge your behaviours, emotions, relationships or situations. Confidentiality is also an important issue, so it is good to talk about what confidentiality involves and situations in which the counselor may have to talk to someone about your personal information to keep you or others safe. Within our service, the counsellor will take you through what confidentiality involves at the beginning of your first session.

All counsellors are different and may use different approaches. It’s really important that you feel safe and comfortable with your counsellor and it’s ok to ask them some questions about how they work too. Evidence tells us that the therapeutic alliance, or connection between counsellor and client, is very important. Therefore, I would encourage you to find a counsellor you feel comfortable working with. Some people find that they may find this first session, for others it will take some more time to feel comfortable with the counsellor, and some clients will choose to try a different counsellor. To help you prepare, you may find it helpful to think about what your needs are before your book your first session. For example, do you have a preference to work with a male or female counsellor? Where would be the best location for you to have counselling? Is there a particular type of counselling you require?

In terms of what to expect from counselling, the first session is really the chance for the counsellor and the client to get to know each other. I find that it’s helpful for people to understand that often specific strategies won’t be covered in the first session, as this session is generally like an intake session. For example, I usually ask more questions in the first session than in following sessions, so that I have a clear understanding of where the client is at. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about something that is perfectly okay!

Within our service, sessions usually run for an hour. However, if you aren’t feeling up to the whole hour that’s okay too. The main priority is that the client is safe and comfortable throughout the process. Some of the clients I work with think that they have to come into the first session and tell me their whole story. This can be upsetting and distressing for some people. I always let clients know that they don’t have to tell me what has happened to them and that it’s their choice if and when they feel comfortable sharing their story. Often in counselling we can work really effectively by looking at how someone is coping in the present and look at ways that they can move forward without have to re-tell their story. I like to work collaboratively to establish what a client is wanting to get out of the counselling process, and then working out how we can move towards achieving these goals. If you are after information about specific strategies in particular, it can be good to let the counselor know so that they can prepare for the next session.

I also find that it is helpful for people to understand that through the counselling process, people are encouraged to identify and work through options available to them. Counselling isn’t about providing advice but more about creating a safe place for clients and empowering them to bring about change in their own lives. It is important to be prepared and ready to engage in the counselling process. Counselling isn’t about a counselor sitting with you and talking at you. I find that when a client can engage in the counselling process in an open and honest way, they tend to get the best outcomes.

Helen, VCSS Counselor