You’ve taken the plunge, and scheduled your first counselling session (after, of course, reading my tips on how to find a great counsellor – see my previous blog post here.)
You’re now waiting to have your first session, and are possibly feeling ALL THE FEELS.
Here’s what you need to know before you start your counselling:
It is perfectly, completely, normal to feel nervous, anxious or scared about your first session.
You’re about to meet a complete stranger, sit with them for 50 minutes and talk about yourself, perhaps with an expectation that you must immediately share your vulnerabilities and difficulties. This is not what we do in normal social situations – in fact, invariably, we try to avoid doing this as much as possible. So, the thought alone of doing this is probably making you feel a bit nervous and uncomfortable. We get it. It’s completely normal and expected to feel this way. Counselling is a big step, sharing your vulnerabilities is a brave step. You might also be nervous about what you’ll find out about yourself….all totally normal.
There’s no rush.
We have time. There’s no expectation that you must share your vulnerabilities and difficult feelings / experiences from the first session. It takes time to build trust with a counsellor, and to feel safe enough to share some of your experiences. The first few sessions are a bit like a dance, where we both get to know each other, and build up our therapeutic relationship.
There’s no right or wrong way to ‘do’ counselling.
There’s only your way. This is the work of being, of relating, of experiencing, and of exploring. It’s so specific and individual that there really is no textbook way to ‘do’ therapy from a client’s seat. Now, of course, as humans we tend to like to know how we ‘should’ be doing something, so it can be quite uncomfortable at the beginning to know that there is no rulebook to read from when it comes to your own counselling. Hopefully, this discomfort soon gets replaced with a sense of freedom and autonomy – to create and craft your own counselling journey yourself.
Your counsellor cannot read your mind.
Believe it or not, your counsellor is just another human being…..one trained and experienced to work in this profession, but a human none-the-less. We don’t have special mind-reading powers. It might at times feel like that, and that’s because we work hard to attune to you and your experience. But we can only know what you share of your own experience of situations (in the past, or the present). Be as open and honest as you feel able to, even if its just to say ‘I’m finding this really hard today’.
You might feel worse before you start to feel better
This is something I often say to new clients as we begin our work together. Of course, you’re coming to counselling to help you feel better about something, a situation or yourself, but it takes work to achieve that. The process of counselling is a process of discovery and uncovering, of reflection and understanding. And at times, this can be hard and painful. However, it’s the working through of this, meeting this pain with compassion and care, holding space for grief and loss, and integrating all of this into yourself with new insight and understanding that can bring about profound and deep healing, growth and change.
There aren’t any shortcuts (sorry)
We live in a world of immediacy and convenience. And this can lead to expectations that everything should come quickly, should be fixed, solved, gratified, immediately.
And so it can feel uncomfortable when in counselling we offer an alternative. We alter the pace. We offer space, not speed. We ask you to slow down, take note, become aware. It’s like a quest. A quest to find understanding, to find meaning, to find your truth, to find yourself. And this doesn’t happen overnight. There aren’t any shortcuts.
Its about you, not them.
In counselling we talk about our parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, partners, children…..relationships across the spectrum, present and past. And for a lot of people, this can be hugely uncomfortable. It can come with guilt, a feeling of betraying those relationships.
However, its never actually about them. It’s about you.
We learn so much about ourselves by exploring our relationships and we relate to and with other people. It’s never about vilifying, shaming or blaming other people. It’s about learning and understanding ourselves.
The healing process is messy, challenging, and intense. That’s ok.
This is one of the things we often don’t talk about when we talk about healing. And that’s the reality of it. It’s not bubble baths and candles. Its challenging, messy, painful, intense and uncomfortable.
The healing process is one of accountability, which can bring new awareness and with it a sense of guilt.
It’s unpicking and unravelling things to get to their root, which can be triggering and intense.
It’s shifting the lens through which you have been accustomed to viewing things, which can be exhausting.
It’s finding new behaviours and not relying on habitual coping mechanisms and defences that no longer serve you, which takes great effort, commitment and dedication.
Healing is hard work. But man is it worth it.
The work of counselling is not limited to the counselling session
A counselling session typically lasts a clinical hour: 50 minutes. I see clients on a weekly basis. This leaves 167 hours (and ten minutes!) between sessions.
However, these 167 hours are important, and you are still working during this time. Working hard. You might feel a bit jangled about something that was touched on and explored during your counselling session – and in the hours that pass between your sessions you might experience your defences swoop in and try to smooth out any discomfort. You might forget almost everything discussed but be left with a feeling. You might feel a loosening, or a tightening depending on where things have got to. You might have vivid dreams, or experience temporary shifts in your sleeping patterns. You might feel confused, or balanced, energised, or drained.
All of this is work. Hard work. Processing, digesting, adjusting, integrating, both consciously and unconsciously.
Be mindful of what is happening between sessions. The work done during this time is just as important as the work done during your 50 minute counselling session.