Beginning counselling for the first time can be daunting enough – but add ‘fear of the unknown’ into the mix, and that’s another worry to add to your mental load.
With that in mind, it’s really beneficial to take some time at the start of your counselling journey to ask questions, and familiarise yourself with the commitment ahead of you. This could be in an initial enquiry email, over the phone, or in your first session where you discuss your needs and expectations.
To help you get started, here, with the help of cognitive behavioural psychotherapist Nishat Ahmed, we explore four important questions to ask a counsellor before you get started working with them, to make the most of your sessions.
“It’s important to find out which type of therapy your counsellor practices, as well as what to expect from the structure of your sessions,” says Nishat.
“For any type of psychological therapy or counselling to be beneficial, you need to be able to engage with the process – and you will only engage in the process if you buy into it, and have reasonable faith in the principles to give it a good go. For this reason, it’s good to get a basic understanding of the practice, and what the 50 minutes to an hour will look like, to see if it fits with what you are looking for.”
Do some research beforehand to get an idea of the different types of counselling available – for example, psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive analytical therapy (CAT), humanistic therapies, and interpersonal psychotherapy – and don’t be afraid to ask the counsellor for more specific information if you’re not entirely sure what a session may entail.
It’s always reassuring to know that there are others out there who have experienced similar things to you, and when it comes to connecting with a counsellor, knowing that they’ve explored this area with clients before can give you another layer of confidence.
“I’m sure most counsellors and therapists you come across will be fully qualified in the type of therapy they are offering,” says Nishat. “Nonetheless, certain counsellors will have experience with some problems and not with others. For you to feel comfortable and confident in your counsellor, check-in on their prior experiences of working with similar difficulties. It might give you an idea as to how realistic it is to achieve your goals.”
“Your counsellor’s main job is to help you get closer to your goals, and reduce your psychological distress”
“A lot of people don’t realise that coming for therapy is a big commitment,” Nishat explains. “Your counsellor’s main job is to help you get closer to your goals, and reduce your psychological distress. But we can’t do it alone.
“Therapy needs to be collaborative and, with that being said, certain types of therapy may require you to do ‘homework’ outside of sessions, bring items for the session’s agenda, or simply to have the willingness to open up. Find out what level of commitment is required of you to reap the most benefits.”
Nishat also recommends asking about how much you will be in contact – how often will your sessions be, can you email them outside of sessions, or pick up additional sessions if you feel you need them?
“Things come up in life which may require you to cancel a session, so ask how your counsellor will deal with late cancellations or no shows, so you are aware of the commitment you are making,” Nishat says. “Every counsellor will need some ways to address cancellations to ensure a reduced waiting time for others, so don’t be surprised if you get charged for missing a session if you haven’t given notice.”
Some counsellors may also require notice for ending their services, and while this can seem like a very distant problem when you’re just starting out, having an informed understanding of what your entire counselling journey will look like will set you off on the right foot, and help you to embark on the process with confidence.
Nishat Ahmed is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist working across London in the NHS and private practice. Find out more about counselling and connect with a counsellor using counselling-directory.org.uk
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