Approaching a counsellor for the first time can be daunting. There may be many questions running through your head. Such as:
- What if I don’t like my therapist?
- What will we talk about?
- What if I want to change therapists?
- Can this therapist really help me?
- Is it safe to see a therapist?
- How long will I need to see a therapist?
These are just some of the questions that come up for people seeking therapy for the first time. Sometimes your therapist will have similar questions or worries about the beginning of a new relationship. This is all normal and a part of the process.
Like in all professions, there are a few bad apples. A registered and qualified counsellor can be in a really good position to support you with whatever life difficulty you may be experiencing.
What if I don’t like my therapist?
It’s perfectly fine to not like your therapist. Maybe they remind you of someone in the past who was mean to you. It really doesn’t matter what the reason is. If you believe that you and your therapist aren’t going to develop a positive and constructive rapport then it’s better to move on. Most successful therapy depends on your relationship with the therapist – this is called the Therapeutic Alliance. However, there is no reason to move on if you believe the therapist is providing you with the proper level of service and care. Remember, you might not get what you want but you might just get what you need. Bottom line is it’s your choice, there are no lock-in contracts and you are free to end counselling whenever you want to. Remember that sometimes your therapist would like some feedback if you decide to end therapy.
What will we talk about?
Most new clients and some more experienced will have this worry. However, therapy is often goal orientated and client-centered. So there is no need to worry. Often once the session starts the therapist might review the last session and ask you to elaborate on the previous week or fortnight. You will then get an opportunity to discuss whatever is on your mind. The therapist will have a good idea of where the sessions will be leading and have some goals for you, but a therapy session is yours to discuss whatever you want and the therapist can be led by you. Sometimes, I have had clients come to sessions with notes and dot points they would like to go over with me; which is great. Sometimes there may be a moment or two of silence between you and your therapist, that’s ok too as you both need to process and think about what has been said. Silence in therapy isn’t a bad thing.
What if I want to change therapists?
That’s ok too. In fact, if you’re looking to change therapists, your current therapist is often willing to provide you with details of other therapists in the area who might be better suited to you. Changing therapists isn’t a problem. However, talk to your therapist first about what is happening for you and why you are thinking of changing therapists. Maybe there is something the therapist is unaware of and can change. Remember, although changing therapists is up to you and your prerogative, working through issues with your therapist can be beneficial and actually support positive change. When you leave a therapist, be aware you will need to re-share your stories with the new therapist too.
Can this therapist really help me?
The short answer is yes. A qualified and experienced counsellor can be a great support and offer you a safe and confidential environment to talk and process emotions, feelings and thoughts that might be limiting in some way. However, having realistic expectations about therapy is important. Therapy is a relationship between two people, and like all relationships, there needs to be some fundamentals which are observed. When you see a therapist, you are the expert in your own life so you are really in the driver’s seat. How you approach counselling is important. The most important factor is the therapeutic alliance you build with your therapist. Therapy can be a great help and support to individuals. However, there is no magic wand or potion that can cure all. Time, openness, patience and humility are key in successful therapy.
Is it safe to see a therapist?
When you are trying to find a therapist, do some research. There are many different types of therapists and they can use different approaches. The short answer is yes. It is safe to see a qualified and experienced counsellor. Check to determine the counsellor is registered with the Australian Counselling Association (ACA). The ACA is the peak regulating body for therapists and supports therapists and the community to be safe. Is the therapist insured? What are their qualifications? Do they engage in professional development? There are a number of regulations and laws that are in place to keep you safe. There is also a Code of ethics that all counselors registered with the ACA are required to abide by and as a client you are free to make a complaint if you deem it necessary.
How long will I need to see a therapist?
How long is a piece of string? Most people will see a therapist between 5-10 sessions. Of course, sometimes it will be much longer and sometimes a lot shorter too. There is no set rule about this. However, there are a number of factors which may impact the number of sessions you require. Again, the Therapeutic Alliance is key – can you be open and honest with your therapist? Can you repair the relationship if it goes wrong? What issues are presenting themselves and what would you like to achieve from counselling? Often therapy will start off weekly and then move to fortnightly sessions. As time goes by, sessions may move into a maintenance phase of once a month. My suggestion would be to discuss this with your therapist and negotiate and keep discussing on an ongoing basis.
If you are thinking about getting counselling, remember it’s okay to do your research and ask questions. A good therapist is happy to answer your questions and understands that seeing a therapist for the first time can be a difficult first step.