Iggy the Iguana in front of The Head Shed
Iggy the Iguana welcomes you to The Head Shed

Ok, so you’ve negotiated choosing your counsellor, its nearly time for our first session. How are you doing?

I know that everyone is different, but many of my clients have said that they feel nervous, anxious, uneasy and uncomfortable. Some of my clients even feel excited, and some relieved.

I have written a Frequently Asked Questions page for the pressing practicalities. I hope to take some of the stress/anxiety away by answering as many of your queries as I could think of. If you cannot find your answers on there then drop me a text and/or email.

I’ll fess up here, I too feel nervous and anxious when a new client comes to see me for the first time ever. You see the first session is very important: in this initial session I will welcome you, I will begin to discuss what you want from counselling, how I might work with you, and establish whether we will be able to work together. We need to each meet the other, and decide basically if we feel “ok” and if we think we can each work with the other.

Some Counsellors or Therapists call this an “assessment” session. Personally, I dislike this term: it feels too much like an academic test. During the first session both client and counsellor are feeling their way around, trying work out if indeed they can work with this person or not. We are all living beings/animals and as such we have our survival instincts: it is well known in the business world that you have less than 30 seconds to make a good impression. People make snap judgements almost immediately on meeting you and you may never get a chance to change or sway their opinion. Luckily in Counselling Sessions we both get a little while longer.

Counselling Theory says that counselling is relational (a connection between two people) and that the therapeutic relationship is the crux of counselling. “The actual contact between a counsellor and a person who is seeking help lies at the heart of what counselling is about,” says John McLeod. Research has shown that “in the eyes of the client, it is the quality of their relationship with their therapist that has made the largest contribution to the value of the therapy for them.” John McLeod goes on to say “the fact remains that theory and technique are delivered through the presence and being of the counsellor as a person,” so a counsellor’s “way of being” can make or break a counselling process for a client.

Bottom line: if you don’t feel ok with me, and there may be many perfectly valid reasons as to why the match does not feel right (too many to list or attempt to explain here), then you won’t be able to work effectively, and that’s a waste of your time and money. How you feel when interacting with your counsellor or therapist is hugely important and you need to feel able to talk openly and honestly. Any experienced therapist knows and understands this and will work with you to resolve any issues, or will understand when you politely take your leave and seek help elsewhere.

As well as you working out if you feel ok working with me, I will be working out whether I feel ok working with you and the issues that you have brought. Again, there may be many valid reasons as to why the match does not feel right from my side of things. For instance, I have an ethical responsibility to work within my competencies, and if I feel that I am not the right therapist for you, I will suggest that you access more specialised, experienced or appropriate  support elsewhere. I appreciate that you might feel let down by this, few people want to trawl around telling their story multiple times. I do not turn away clients easily, and if I do I will have carefully considered my decision and discussed this with my clinical supervisor. This will have been made with your very best interests at heart.

Roger Casemore puts it very well when he says “What I will try to do here is to create a trusting relationship between us that will provide a safe place in which I hope you will feel very accepted and understood so that you can be in touch with your feelings and talk, without fear, about anything which concerns you.” I feel that I am both professionally and ethically bound to let you know if I feel unable to provide you with this safe space.

Also during our “initial” session I will go through and discuss with you my current “T&C’s” some people call this a “Counselling Contract, or Agreement”. Each of these working documents can be as individual as each counsellor is.

Our Counselling Agreement sets out the way in which I work, and explains important rules and boundaries. Again, if you are not comfortable and or happy with this, you will need to bring this to my attention.

The most important thing to explain for the first session is Confidentiality:  the rules and regulations that binds Counsellors when working with clients in private practice.

Don’t be anxious, you can read our counselling agreement online for you to have a look at and get comfortable with.

At the end of your first session, I will tell you to go away and reflect for 2 or 3 days before contacting me to look at availability for continued sessions. So, on a lighter note: don’t worry, it is only the first session, it’s only an hour and if you’re not happy you’re not obliged to come back if you don’t want to do so.

If you do decide to come back for more, then I will revisit our counselling agreement with you: clarifying any issues that you might have as we consider entering  in to regular scheduled sessions. I will at that point discuss with you how many sessions you might like, time scales, money issues etc…

Anything you don’t understand. Please get in touch. OK?

Take care
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