My First Counselling Session: What to Expect

Thinking about seeing a counsellor for the first time? If you know what to expect it helps you to be more at ease and have a better outcome.
During the first session, the therapist will typically want to make an initial assessment of your situation. There is no standard set of questions which are asked. However, typically the areas dealt with include the following:

  • Your reason for choosing to seek therapy
    The Therapist will often be interested whether a specific issue has led you to seek counselling. This will allow them to gain an understanding of the surface or presenting issues.
  • Your Family History and Current Status
    Family and background play an important part in how many of us come to live our lives and in our identity so this often forms an important part of the first meeting.
  • How you are Currently Affected by the Issues
    Often the issues that bring us to therapy affect us across a wide range of areas. The therapist will seek to understand whether there are other symptoms of the issue that brought you in – for example work difficulties. The therapist wants to understand you such that he or she can help you to create solutions to your problems. A therapist will sometimes make diagnosis part of the process, helping to create a path to the resolution of your issues.

The Therapeutic Alliance
Therapy is successful when it is a joint effort. Put simply, you need to participate in order for it to work for you. Coming to therapy is the first step – you now need to continue along the journey. There are some personal pointers to make the first session a success:

  • Openness
    Although therapists are well-practiced in asking the right questions, it can sometimes be difficult or feel awkward to reply. It helps to be as open as you feel comfortable with.
  • State your fears
    If you have any concerns about the counselling process it is very helpful to let the therapist know as they can then answer them for you. The more that you understand the process, the more helpful it tends to be.
  • Feelings and Thoughts
    Although the first session may bring up many difficult or even upsetting thoughts, it is helpful to share your feelings and reactions with the therapist. This helps both therapist and you to progress.

Finally, try to be realistic in your expectations: therapy is rarely a “quick fix” – although this can happen. It is perhaps more helpful to think of it as a “process” through which the therapist will help you to move from difficult or stormy waters into a better place. It is useful to think of the process as effortful but one that, with a strong relationship with the therapist, will help you to resolve your issues.

Do Therapists Need Therapy: 4 Tips to Choosing a Great Therapist

Choosing Counsellors and Therapists Perhaps this a controversial statement?  However, when you’re going to be committing money, time and energy to therapy, it’s certainly something that you need to consider when you’re choosing your therapist. It’s one of the four areas that you should have considered when selecting your counsellor or psychotherapist. The other three are below…

1.       The Therapist’s Own Therapy

When you go to see a therapist, either counsellor or psychotherapist, they all have a sophisticated tool at their disposal that they have invested in – themselves. Whilst much can be learnt through academic study, that really is only part of the story. The primary instrument that the therapist uses is their own personality. Ideally, to help others therapists must have done their own work through their own therapy. Their own therapy will have allowed them to grow, releasing them to develop growth in others. Ask them about their own experiences of therapy. It’s not that it’s impossible to work with others without having looked at your own issues, its just that it makes you more potent if you have done. Make sure that your therapist has worked on their own stuff before they work on yours.

2.       Post Graduate Training

Academic credentials are worth considering:  both universities and specialist psychotherapy training institutions offer post graduate training above degree level (e.g. a Masters qualification (MSc or MA)) and this can be one indication of deeper study or knowledge. Whilst all Counsellors and Therapists are required to demonstrate on-going professional development as part of their registration, the best therapists tend to be devoted to lifelong learning. In this case more is nearly always better.

3.       Professional Body Accreditation

Although this may change in the future, surprisingly, unlike other medical professions, there is no overall government regulating body for Psychotherapy and Counselling who are instead currently regulated by their professional bodies. The two most important bodies are the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

Both bodies regulate their members and have codes of ethics and practice which are regarded as essential guidelines for responsible  practitioners.

4.       Your Fit with the Counsellor or Psychotherapist

One of the successful markers of effective therapy – therapy that helps you to achieve your goals- is where there is a strong feeling of rapport between client and therapist. The relationship which develops is very important. How do you work this out then? 4 markers are:

  • Do you feel comfortable with the therapist?
  • Does he or she listen carefully?
  • Do you feel that you are able to trust them?
  • What is the overall feeling you had about the therapist?

In summary, the 4 tips to a good Psychotherapist or Counsellor are:  Qualifications, training and experience, Professional Registration, Personal Therapy, and Client “Fit”.  With these in mind you will have a good sense of whether the therapist is right for you.