You’ve reached the conclusion that it’s a good idea to seek some professional help.
(Or if you’re not there yet, be sure to read Part I about the first three common concerns about going to counselling: difficulty explaining your problem, thinking you shouldn’t need help and uncertainty about where or how to start.)
Even if you’ve got this far, maybe you still have a few niggling doubts. Here are the next four common questions about counselling and therapy….
4. What if I don’t like my therapist?
Be sure to see a therapist who is qualified, professional, and has the skill to meet your needs. Ask about their training and expertise, the clients they see, and the issues they assist with.
Also ask how they work. For example, in our own practice we explain beforehand that we want to understand your personal history. We will ask about your past relationships, childhood and family history. People who do not want to discuss the past will then know that our service will not suit them.
Most professionals in this field are respectful and thoughtful — you should expect this as a minimum. Get a feel for the counsellor from their website or directory profile, or whoever referred you, and from your exchanges with them on the phone or via email. If you have doubts, address them or find someone else.
- You do not want a therapist who talks about their own personal life.
- You do not want someone who is nice and wants only to comfort you or cheer you up.
- You do want a therapist who can ask you difficult questions where appropriate, and who is thoughtful about your answers.
It is okay and likely that you will feel uncomfortable at times — unless you and your counsellor are avoiding uncomfortable topics, which is of course counterproductive.
Some discomfort is usually necessary to do good work, but it is critical for your therapist to strive to make you feel safe. Your counsellor must demonstrate to you that they are capable of responding constructively to whatever discomfort or strong emotion you may experience in your therapy sessions.
It is important that you can raise concerns with your counsellor. They ought to offer a considered, helpful response. A defensive, evasive or dismissive reaction is a red flag.
Your therapist need not be a person with whom you imagine enjoying a coffee or a beer. It’s good to find your therapist genuine, however strict professional boundaries are of utmost importance.
5. How do I know if I can do this?
It is normal to feel nervous about coming to see a therapist for the first time, or the first few times. It is like trying anything new. Although, let’s face it, nerves may be worse with therapy; talking about your personal challenges with a stranger, even a professional, is vulnerable-making.
I don’t know why, but we seem to think that we should know how to do therapy. We worry that we won’t know what to do, or that we will get it wrong.
Rest assured that there is no ‘right way’. And a good counsellor is trained and ready to assist you with the process.
- Some people are ready to tell their story, some need their counsellor to prompt them with questions.
- Some people struggle to feel or show emotion, others struggle to contain their emotions.
- Some people find it easy to use therapy to make sense of their difficulties, to find relief or make the change they want, while others need time and support to find their feet in the therapeutic process.
Counselling is a process not a skill. It may be difficult, even painful. But if you have come this far in your investigation into getting help, you deserve it, and you can do it!
6. How many sessions do I need?
You could say, “how long is a piece of string?”. But when you are thinking about counselling and therapy, it is a fair question, so here are some pointers.
In our practice we suggest that people come along for four to six sessions to begin. During this time we gain some understanding of one another and the challenges you face. Expect positive outcomes from these sessions: a measure of relief, insight and/or direction.
Some people decide these sessions are enough for now. Others want more significant change in their lives and the way they feel and function.
You might commit to weekly counselling for several weeks to a few months while you address anxiety arising from a promotion or a specific relationship issue. Maybe you end up finding that a year of help sees you through a life crisis or a period of grieving.
Or you may decide to embark on longer-term therapy to address life-long challenges, or troubling relationship or behavioural patterns. Trauma or loss in childhood (or growing up with care givers suffering from these) affects your development and personality and leaves you at greater risk of mental-health challenges in adulthood.
Like healing and rehabilitation after serious injury, or learning a new language, or mastering a new skill, therapy will take time — depending on what you wish to achieve.
7. Will it work?
Some people begin to feel better as soon as they’ve booked an appointment! In the face of struggle, you tend to feel relief from taking positive action.
Swift relief also comes when you vent and let off steam, or talk about your difficulty and have a cry. Likewise, you feel better when a professional understands you, or helps you make sense of your experience.
But just as there is pain, sweat and soreness on the path to fitness, there are side effects to therapy. Facing old hurts, confronting the realities of an unhealthy relationship or work situation, exploring stress, anxiety and depression, are often accompanied by painful thoughts, feelings and some fatigue.
Yet after a challenging fitness workout, most people are glad they did it, even if they feel tired and sore afterwards — so too with therapy sessions.
Counselling and therapy work in different ways for different people. And you will respond differently to various types of help and practitioners, hence the importance of seeking out what is best for you.
A good experience of counselling can bring comfort, perspective and positive change. For some people the outcome is concrete: you make a decision you’ve been putting off or you sleep better.
For others, it is less tangible but significant. You gain understanding and self-awareness, and become less reactive and more intentional in your behaviours and choices. You overcome fears and shift dark moods; or you work through anger, sadness and confusion; and in time, find more calm and contentment.
Feel the doubt and go for it anyway
The truth is, of course, it is reasonable to have doubts — as with trying anything new: a job, a relationship, a place to live. You research as best you can, you make informed choices and you take a punt. It’s worth giving it a go, to seek the help you deserve.
I hope this answers your lingering questions about counselling and therapy. I hope it equips you with greater confidence to take the next step.