Whether it’s the first session or whether you’ve been coming a while, clients have been known to say “I don’t know what to say? I don’t know what to talk about?”
The simple answer is anything you want to talk about – but for some that can kind of be intimidating – cue tumbleweed sound effects!
But please don’t fret: my style of counselling is very gentle, easy, more like a chat: not quite coffee and a chat (although they are both on offer) because I offer a situation that’s very different to talking to a friend. My room is very private, what you say is truly confidential and I am a professional: I am trained and I have standards that I adhere to.
However, the time offered is genuinely yours: I have no agenda. I will only challenge you as much as you want me to. So we can talk about whatever you wish to talk about. I reckon that what bubbles up in conversation is what’s most important to you at that time. My Dad used to interview people for jobs and he always said that you learn more about candidates whilst getting coffee and walking down the corridor than in the formal, sterile interview session. Some clients talk absolutely non-stop, some talk a lot with only the odd interjection from me, some its more 50-50, others I start by talking more and gradually they take the reigns, and some talk very little or not at all: and that’s all okay. Individual counselling sessions, even with the same client, can be extremely varied, sometimes really quite odd (taking the client themselves by surprise), and sometimes even unintentionally humorous. I honestly do not seek to control where they go: you have the steering wheel, I’m riding shotgun! Clients can be surprised to hear that I have no grand plan, that I have no idea where each session will go and what we will discuss.
Some clients have a plan mapped out on their smartphone, some take the back of a fag packet plan idea, and some wing it completely. Each and every style works for the individual that uses it. I don’t set tasks, or homework: some clients do reflect on their sessions and come back the next week with notes to explore and that’s fine. Other clients treat each session as a fresh start and have often very much moved on from where they were at the last session before they come to the next and that’s fine too.
It is my view that something brought you to my door: what that is we’ll work it out between us in time and when you’re ready to go there. I used to work in a Grief & Loss Counselling Service, where clients arrived as they were bereaved, grieving or had had a loss: many times though we found that the initial grief had unearthed or led to a different matter altogether that needed addressing and that was okay too.
Personally I see it as my role to create a suitable environment, conditions and atmosphere that allows you to feel comfortable and confident enough to explore your private personal thoughts. Its kind of my job to help you to feel okay to talk, to work out what it is you feel that you would like to talk about. Some clients say “should I talk about that?” (there’s a should swear box for them – there are no shoulds in my counselling space), others say you’ll think it silly/daft/stupid/mean/bitchy… I won’t think badly of you, often I’m found telling clients that their reactions are “normal” and to be expected and no, I am not shocked/disgusted or appalled at all!
So please don’t fret that you don’t know what to talk about: we’ll explore what’s important to you, on that day, at that time. One client likened coming to sessions to letting out the built-up fizz in a Coke bottle: it just lets them go out and about afterwards without fear of a messy embarrassing outburst at an inopportune time.