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What to expect from counselling and what it involves

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

Counselling might feel nerve-wracking at first but it doesn't have to be...

For some people the thought of counselling is exciting, for others it is utterly nerve wracking. The idea of sitting down with a stranger and sharing your story can be overwhelming. You might naturally feel apprehensive if you don’t know what to expect. Counselling is ultimately about you giving yourself quality time and space to explore things that are important to you and to heal parts that might need some gentleness and support. I've been working for some years in my practice here in Brunswick, Melbourne and I find many clients tend to feel nervous and have questions that they feel hesitant to ask. I’m going to talk you through what you can expect and I'll aim to cover many of the questions that come up about counselling and what it involves...

"Sometimes people believe they need to tell their whole story in a first session. For many people that can be upsetting. I always let clients know that it’s their choice if and when they start telling more of their story. "

Laying it out there

Counsellors know it can feel tricky to begin with, so it’s okay to let your therapist know you feel reserved, hesitant or self-conscious. Putting this out there and talking about how it feels helps break away the nerves. Counsellors are trained professionals and they are there to create a safe space for you, where there’s no judgement of your feelings, experiences, relationships or history. A counsellor will talk to you about confidentiality so you feel clear and secure about sharing.

What to expect from your first session

Most counselling sessions are about 45mins long. Therapists tend to use the last fifteen minutes (usually longer) to make notes about your session and to reflect on and plan what might be helpful to support you in the next appointment. In your first session your counsellor is aiming to understand what you hope to get from the process and will be curious to know what prompted you to start sessions. In your first session you might feel at ease or it might take you a few sessions to start to feel more comfortable, and this is normal.

There are no hard and fast rules but a first session is generally about you being able to say what’s important to you, to talk about your experiences and challenges to the extent that you feel okay with. Sometimes people believe they need to say their whole story in a first session. For many people that can be upsetting or distressing. I always let clients know that it’s their choice if and when they start telling more of their story.

In your first session specific strategies might not be included as it’s usually more about getting to know you. In a first session I generally ask some questions to get a sense of where a client is at and if you don’t feel comfortable talking about something that is absolutely okay.

It can feel hard (but brilliant too)

Exploring challenges, old beliefs, habits and traumatic experiences in life is... hard. Anything we tackle that leads us to a sense of accomplishment often feels challenging along the way. Much like learning a new instrument, it can feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, like it’s taking energy and focus, like we need to dedicate time to practice. But then we find it getting easier, the learning becomes embodied so we don’t have the think about pressing down on every piano key or string — we just do it. And when we do get comfortable there’s a sense of empowerment, of deeper understanding and confidence that flows. Counselling can feel a little like work but it can also feel incredibly freeing and empowering too.

You are the expert

Any good counsellor knows that you are the expert of your experience. You know how you feel and how your experience has informed the way you see things. Counselling isn’t about providing advice. Your sessions are about you guiding the process and your counsellor’s role is to be present supporting you in that.

Your counsellor will offer up their expertise so you have strategies, supports and a different perspective to utilise. A therapist might ask questions you hadn’t considered before and you might find yourself coming up with answers you didn’t think you had. A counsellor’s role is to support and guide (like a personal trainer). But ultimately you are doing the work and you have the wisdom. It’s your marathon, you’re running it and your counsellor is simply keeping you on track (cheering you on).

How to pick a counsellor?

Counsellors work in different ways with different approaches. Evidence shows that the therapeutic connection between a counsellor and client is very important. It’s essential to select someone you feel comfortable with. You know what’s important to you. If you have a trauma history you’ll want to see if your therapist works with trauma. If you are experiencing issues related to your sexuality or gender you might want to choose a counsellor who works confidently with these things. It you are experiencing issues like OCD you’ll want to see if the therapist has experience with OCD support. You might feel strongly about a holistic mindful approach to therapy — so ask if the therapist works in this way (if their focus is solely cognitive, CBT, it might not be the best fit).

It is absolutely okay to email or call a therapist and ask if they can chat and answer a few questions. Speaking with a counsellor before you make an appointment will allow you to get a sense of if they are a good fit and whether their values align with yours. All this is important because counselling is a collaboration, a partnership that will support your own values.

Would you like to learn more or ask me questions?

You can read more about how I practice here. Please be in touch (you'll see the 'contact' tab at the top of your screen) if you have questions to see if I am a good fit for you.

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Allison Browning
Allison Browning
Sep 13, 2020

Thanks so much for the comment GH! I'm glad it was helpful : )


Some reassuring information thanks:)

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