When your friend suggests you get some help, you think it might be a good idea. You browse online and tell yourself to make some inquiries. But it’s hard to take the next step.
Weeks go by, maybe months.
You have some okay days, but some bad ones too. You go online and search again. And hesitate again — you don’t know what to expect of seeing a counsellor, how do you do therapy, and will it actually help?
Here are the most common questions people ask me about coming to counselling and therapy (regardless of the triggers that bring people to counselling) and my answers. I hope this makes it easier for you to seek the help you deserve.
1. What if I don’t know what the problem is?
Some people come to counselling ready to articulate their struggles in great detail. But they are the minority.
Some are able to point to a symptom or destructive behaviour: I’m stressed and I can’t sleep. I’m drinking more than usual. I’m always snapping at my partner. But they can’t really explain it.
And for others it is even more intangible: I don’t know, I just don’t feel myself, things are fine but I don’t feel fine.
You do not need to know what the problem is or how to describe it. “Finding” the problem is part of the counselling process, and it is part of a therapist’s job to facilitate this process.
If you cannot name or explain your difficulties, you are not alone. Don’t let not knowing stop you — a good therapist can help you find the words.
2. What if my life is good?
It is hard for you to believe you deserve help. You imagine anyone who looks at your life from the outside considers you to be pretty lucky. And perhaps you are.
So you denigrate your pain, you call it ‘first world problems’. You do not believe it is okay for you yourself to seek help.
Yet if you had pain in your leg that caused you to limp, you would not hesitate to see someone, to have an x-ray. And if it was a friend struggling, you would encourage them to get help.
Pain and discomfort caused by stress, depression, anxiety, loss, trauma or any other mental health issue are real and deserve attention. A good life does not mean you ought to struggle alone with stress and strain.
3. Where do I start?
Yes, some people know exactly where they want to start when they take a seat in their first therapy session. They take time beforehand to think over what they want to say. However, the majority of people come to counselling with nerves and vague ideas only. Either way is fine.
Every first session is unique. You may have a question for your therapist. Your therapist will have questions for you. Perhaps you will outline your current life circumstances in and outside of work. You might describe how you are experiencing stress, how it is impacting daily life. Maybe beginning with some family history makes sense to you.
Your counsellor ought to assist you if you are feeling uncertain. They ought to have gentle prompts ready to help you get started, and to work with you to find an approach that eases you into counselling.
Now you can get serious
These first three questions are usually at the top of your list when you are considering seeing a counsellor.
Part II of this post (coming soon) will address your next four questions — about the therapist, a stranger you hope you can trust, your concern about your capacity to do therapy, and if and how it will work.
But for now you know: it does not matter if you cannot explain your difficulties; you deserve help even if your life is good; and you need not prepare, your therapist ought to assist you if you are not sure how to begin.
Now you can take steps towards getting some help, some relief, some direction.
Stop browsing and hesitating, start making contact. Start asking counsellors about how they can help you.