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Counselling: What to expect when you go to your first Counselling Session

March 2020

Whether you’ve already made an appointment with a counsellor or are considering it for the first time, take comfort that you’ve already taken the first step towards protecting your mental wellness. Going to counselling can be a life-changing experience but if this is your first time, you may not know what to expect.

In this month’s Blog, we’re going to look at what you need to know in advance of your first counselling session.  We want to relieve you of any pre-appointment anxieties that you may have.

What is Counselling? How does it work?

Counselling is a confidential and non-judgemental process where an individual, couple or family meet with a trained, professional, counsellor to talk about any issues they may face in their lives. These issues have no definitive limits. They can vary, but are not limited to, trauma, stress, anxiety, depression, existing mental health conditions, grief, addiction, isolation, abuse, lack of direction, relationships, illness or life-changing events – to name just a few.

Counselling can help you gain clarity. It gives you the opportunity to get things off your chest in a calm and non-judgemental environment and can equip you with tools to overcome obstacles and personal challenges facing you.

What do I do when I arrive?

The first moments of your arrival to a counsellor’s office are generally very similar to waiting for any other kind of health care appointment. You might check in with a receptionist and be asked to fill out initial paperwork. This paperwork will usually ask you to provide your personal details such as home address, phone number, any existing medical information and your next of kin.

Don’t worry, this information is confidential and is only for the purpose of registering you to the service. It is always a good idea to arrive about 10 minutes early to your first appointment to ensure you give yourself enough time to do this in advance.

During the session

Your very first session will generally take approximately up to 50 minutes. It’s a simple introduction and an opportunity for your Counsellor to get to know you and for you to get to know your Counsellor. Your counsellor will typically seek to establish why you’ve decided to go to counselling and try to understand any particular issues that you’re dealing with. They may ask exploratory questions relating to your current life situations, past experiences or any symptoms you may be experiencing in order to determine the type of counselling that will best suit your needs.  From this they can create an initial plan with you to move forward.

After the session

Everyone is different and so there’s no one right way to feel after a counselling session.  The most important thing to do after your first session is to be kind to yourself.  There’s no need to feel under any pressure to feel a certain way. For some people, counselling leaves them feeling exhausted and out of sorts, for others they feel relieved or like they can finally relax. No matter how you feel, make sure to self-care and allow yourself to process all your new information.

Additionally, you may have some “homework” to do before your next session. This could be anything from journaling throughout the week to doing a little reading that may help provide context for your next session. Remember, any work you do between sessions is about helping you to feel healthier and more in control. It’s not about adding extra tasks on your to-do list. If you don’t get around to it, don’t worry. Just show up to your next session and your counsellor will help bring you up to speed.

 Final little reminders

  • Be sure to go to your first session with realistic expectations. There’s no such thing as a one-session cure. You may feel a little better or relieved after your first session, but your issues and/or symptoms won’t immediately disappear. Be patient and stick with the process.
  • Ask questions. The more you understand the counselling experience or how counselling works, the more comfortable you’ll be. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the process and ask the counsellor to repeat anything you don’t understand.
  • Be open and honest about your feelings. A lot will be going through your head in this first session. Listen to your own reactions and feelings and share them with the counsellor. You’ll both learn from these insights. Remember, it is a non-judgemental space.
  • Don’t feel bad if this counsellor isn’t for you. Like any other relationship, we get on with some people more than others. It’s no different for the relationship between you and your counsellor. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t click at the start. Maybe the relationship needs more time or maybe a different counsellor would be better suited to you. Don’t give up! Simply explore other options or tell them how you feel. They won’t take it personally and will want to ensure that the process works best for you, even if that means them recommending someone else.

But remember, counsellors have your best interests at heart.  They are there to help you through a difficult time.  They can provide you with the tools to navigate the issues facing you.  They can offer you an empathetic and non-judgemental space to explore the issues you are facing.  Your counsellor can help you get beyond your currently difficulties and get on with the rest of your life.

3Ts Video 

For further information check out our short video on Counselling. 

To find a counsellor near you, you can:

  • Ask your GP for a recommendation;
  • Check out the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy – you can search registered practitioners on https://iacp.ie
  • If you are feeling suicidal or engaging in self-harm and you would like to speak to someone, phone Pieta House on 1800 247 247. Pieta provide a confidential helpline and can also provide one-to-one counselling within their service.
  • For further information on Crisis Helplines or Specialist Support Helplines, see links below. 

Crisis Helplines

Additional Specialist Support Helplines

3Ts Self Help Guides