What to consider when starting your counselling journey
Thinking of exploring counselling, what next? The process of starting counselling can be a minefield. Where do I look for a Counsellor? Who do I pick? What’s the correct amount to pay? When can I see them? Where will I see them? How am I going to open up to them? What will I say? There’s a lot of unknown when it comes to taking the initial steps to getting some help. Here are some pointers that I hope will be beneficial when beginning this journey.
It doesn’t matter how you find the Counsellor
There isn’t any right or wrong place to begin the search for a Counsellor in private practice, although most people tend to look online. Some people may use word of mouth or see a business card or flyer for a Counsellor. There are several different websites that Counsellors can use to register their service, in the hope it will generate client referrals. It might be worth seeing if a Counsellor has a website to gain further information about them. It doesn’t matter where you find the Counsellor as such, if you’re comfortable with how they work and their approach. Counselling is not under statutory regulation. It is overseen and supported by several organisations, with one of the most common being the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP.)
Shop around, one size doesn’t fit all
If you can afford to shop around for a Counsellor, it can give you confidence that you’ve found a good match for you. Attending several assessments (which are usually the first contact you’d have with a prospective Counsellor) gives you experience of the differences and similarities between Counsellors. An assessment and a contract are an important part of the work so be confident that this has been done. Briefly speaking, an assessment is a Counsellor’s way of finding out more about you and ensuring they feel they’re the right person to help you. It might take the format of questions, form filling in or even paper exercises. The contract will set out key points of information for both you and the Counsellor. It is to set boundaries transparently. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you have as this initial contact is providing you with a snapshot of how the Counsellor works.
Where and When
Counselling usually takes place weekly at the same day and time. There are some different approaches to this, and I have agreed to a couple of ad hoc sessions with clients who I have felt we have a strong therapeutic relationship and it has been towards the end of their counselling. The same day and time slot for sessions is common practice, both for Counsellors’ diary management and to provide you with structure. That said, tell your Counsellor if you feel you need some flexibility. I have had shift workers, students or those that are self employed who’ve needed some flexibility with sessions.
You need to consider where you’d be comfortable seeing a Counsellor. In private practice you may find some work from home in a dedicated space, some may work from purpose-built therapy centres, or some may work from more unique settings such as a cabin in their garden. Think about how much a setting and environment impact on you and where you’d feel comfortable and safe.
Money, money, money
How much is the right amount to pay? If I go with the lower end will I get a rubbish Counsellor and does paying more, mean a better experience? It might be a good idea to assess how much Counsellors charge in your local area to gain a perspective of the range of fees. Some Counsellors also offer discounts for block bookings or different groups such as students, retired, NHS workers or those on low incomes. How much the Counsellor is charging needs to feel right for you. Consider if you need a Counsellor that specialises in an area or has a specialist technique on offer, as this may have a bearing on price. Their experience and qualifications may all impact on how much they charge.
Where do I start
Not being sure where or how to start describing your issues in your first session is very common, but an experienced Counsellor will make you feel comfortable. Feeling that you are in a safe, non-judgemental environment will help here too. The opening up process will allow the Counsellor to then offer empathy, build on trust and rapport to forge a therapeutic relationship. Everyone opens up at different speeds and that’s fine. Counselling needs to be at your pace. I would suggest really committing to the sessions, pushing yourself and believing in you and your Counsellor. Go tentatively and look after yourself but, if you can, be brave and daring. Even if it’s just flashes of this in a session, it will allow your Counsellor to see into your world.
Some clients have very pressing and immediate topics they want to explore. Some have past trauma they need to dance around until ready to peel back the layers. Whilst some take a chronological approach to address any childhood issues. There is no right or wrong here. It’s what is going to work for you.
If you’re not happy with your Counsellor, especially if only following an assessment then change Counsellor. If your confident enough to do so, explain to your Counsellor why you’re not going to have any further sessions with them. This feedback can be crucial in a Counsellors own development. Giving this feedback may also do something for you as client. To the best of your ability, commit to sessions, turn up on time, participate, trust, be bold, be brave and, quite simply, wonderful things may happen!