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The first counselling session

If you are new to counselling you may wonder what it will entail. Feeling nervous and possibly a little sceptical about doing something different is perfectly natural. What I can tell you is that you are not alone in feeling this way and that many people come to therapy feeling a little anxious and unsure about how it can help.

Typically a therapy session will last for 50 minutes and in your first session the therapist will ask you lots of questions about you and your life. This will include the reasons you sought counselling, your current situation and questions around your relationships and family life, past and present.

Family history plays an important role in who you are and your therapist will be trying to understand both the surface problems as well as any deeper issues. In counselling you will also explore the impact or the ‘symptoms’ of your problem and how these may be causing difficulty in your life. For example, the impact on your work and relationships.

Confidentiality is a vital part of the counselling relationship and this should be explained to you in the first session. In the first or second session, the counsellor should also explain the 'housekeeping' rules, such as cancellation policy, timing of sessions and payment issues.

Counselling is a collaboration, so it is best to come with an open mind and be prepared to take an active part in the session. Your therapist is trained in asking questions but is not a mind reader so your role in being as open and honest about how you are feeling is crucial. Don't worry if you find talking about your feelings difficult. A skilled counsellor will help you with this.

Ask questions about the counselling process. The more you understand about how counselling works, the more comfortable you will be. You may wish to ask the counsellor to repeat something or explain further.

It is important to feel comfortable with the therapist and the first session is a time to evaluate how you feel sitting talking to this person. This can feel awkward at first, especially if you are unused to the focus being entirely on you, so allow for this, but bear in mind that you may wish to mull over whether this is the right therapist for you based on how you feel in the first or the first few sessions.

Finally, take a realistic stance on the counselling process. Counselling is not a quick fix but a journey where you form a working alliance with your therapist and together you both explore and work through the issues that are holding you back. It is a relationship that will support you in gaining greater self-awareness and in doing so identifying the resources and strengths that you have within to help you move forward in your life.

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