What is Counselling?


Have you ever been curious about starting counselling but not sure what it is or what happens in a session? This article will give you some information about the counselling process and what happens in your first session.

Counselling provides a safe and confidential space for you to talk to a trained professional about your issues and concerns. Your therapist will help you explore your thoughts, feelings and behaviours so you can develop a better understanding of yourself and of others.

A counsellor will not give you their opinions or advice or prescribe medication. They will help you find your own solutions through understanding the nature of the problem and the part you play in it. In this way, you will feel you have the power to make choices – whether that’s making effective changes in your life or finding ways of coping with your problems.

Most therapy sessions are 50 minutes long and you attend every week on an agreed day and time. But this is not set in stone and can be discussed with the counsellor to suit your needs and financial circumstances. The main priority is that continuity is not broken by ad hoc sessions here and there. In order for you and counsellor to build a safe and trusting relationship, sessions need to be regular with not too much time in-between. Sessions can be conducted online or face to face, individual or couple’s therapy.

What happens in a counselling session?

What you share in a session depends on what you came to see a counsellor for and the approach of the counsellor.

It could include:
• talking about your childhood memories and challenges
• relationships in your life
• behaviours that you would like to change
• your feelings, emotions or thoughts
• past and present life events that may be troubling you
• situations you find challenging such as social/group gatherings or feeling confident
• past traumatic events that affect you in the present

Counsellors are trained to be understanding, empathic and non-judgemental listeners. They help you explore your thoughts, feelings and emotions so you get a better understanding of the issues at hand. Raising awareness is a key element of counselling. As your awareness grows and you begin to understand yourself better, you will be in a better place to make different choices in your life.

Your first counselling session – what happens?
Every counsellors is different in the way they approach their first session with a client. First session should include:

• Introductions
Therapists usually spend time introducing themselves and explaining how they work. Feel free to ask them about their qualifications, experience, how your sessions will go and anything else on your mind such as wanting to sit in a different seat or to be referred to by your nickname. It is important for you to feel comfortable with your counsellor so you are able to build a trusting relationship with your counsellor.

• Assessment in counselling
Counsellors may want to know the history of the problems you are experiencing, who is in your support network, ask to fill in some forms, etc. As with the introduction, the assessment is to get to know you better and offer you the best support you need. It is important for you to take this opportunity to tell the therapist what’s troubling you so you feel heard. It also enables the counsellor to understand if it is within their capability to help you or whether they need to refer you to someone who has expertise in the area that’s troubling. Working within their level of competence is crucial to protect both the client and themselves.

• Contracting for counselling
Your therapist should agree the terms or contract with you which will cover the frequency of sessions, confidentiality, data protection and fees. This may be either a verbal agreement or a printed document for you both to sign. This is a business contract. Contracting may also include a therapeutic contract which is not written down. This will include the focus of the work and what you want to get out of counselling. Whilst this may not be entirely clear at the start, you could agree on a broad outcome such as wanting to feel more confident. Over a period of time, it may become clearer what becoming more confident means to you.

Counselling is a very personal process. This first session is important for making sure that you feel comfortable with your therapist and their way of working. You don’t have to continue with a therapist if you can’t relate to them or don’t feel safe. However, for some clients it can take a few sessions before they are able to make up their minds about their counsellor. Tune in to how you feel and make a decision that feels right for you without worrying about hurting your counsellor’s feelings.

Feel free to arrange a half hour FREE, NO OBLIGATION meeting with me to find out if counselling could be helpful for you.

Counselling Service at Colchester Institute - Colchester Institute


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