It can be nerve racking turning up for your first counselling appointment. You're going to meet a perfect stranger and begin telling them all sorts of things about yourself. So how do you begin?
One thing counsellors are really good at is putting people at ease. I’ve met lots of people coming for their first ever counselling session, so for me this is familiar. I became a counsellor largely because of being helped by going to counselling, so I really do know from your side how difficult it can be. Nearly all counsellors have their own counselling as part of their professional training, and counsellors are also encouraged to return to counselling as clients whenever they need to, so whoever your counsellor is you can be sure they have some idea of what a first session feels like from your point of view.
You might be coming because you need help with a crisis, or because something in your life is causing you pain or not quite adding up. You might even be starting counselling because things aren’t how you want them to be but you’re not sure why. Whatever your motivation for coming, and whatever brought you in, you can be assured of a warm and human welcome.
I am trained to listen attentively and actively. I will be very interested to hear what brought you here and what you would like from counselling. And if you don’t know, I will be interested to find out with you.
In common with many counsellors, in a first session with someone I always talk through a working agreement (or contract). This might sound a bit formal, but it’s really important. It will cover things such as length and frequency of sessions, payment, cancellation policy, how to contact each other outside sessions should we need to, and usually contains a statement about the limits of confidentiality (it’s important to be clear that counsellors will keep everything you say confidential unless you are planning to hurt yourself or someone else). Often counselling takes you into deeply personal and emotional territory, and you need to feel safe while you are doing this work. In order to help you to manage this vulnerability, counsellors will do their best to be clear and consistent about the working agreement, so that counselling takes place within very well defined boundaries. It’s key that we set all this up in the first session together so that you know what to expect right from the beginning.
Often within that first session, and certainly in all the sessions that follow, there will be time for you to talk about whatever you’d like. My way of working means that I will listen hard, and I will try to communicate my understanding to you. Sometimes I will ask questions to clarify something you’ve said, and sometimes I will ask open questions in an attempt to give you options for exploring and extending your thoughts and feelings. As you build up trust in me, you’ll come to know that nothing is off limits and that I will work with the whole of you (not just the nice bits that we’re used to showing the world!) The idea of this is that you will get to know yourself and your way of being in the world in a much clearer way, which will allow you to uncover more choices for yourself.
At the end of our first session, you’ll have an idea of whether you would like to come back for more sessions. It’s OK to be honest if one session is where you want to leave it. Sometimes you realise the time isn’t right, or you simply don’t feel I am the right counsellor for you. Don’t lose heart: you can always return at a better time, and there are thousands of counsellors out there.