A Quora Reader Asked, “How Would You Prepare for Counselling?”

Question: How would you prepare for counselling?,

First of all, congratulations on making the decision to access support. If you’ve found the right therapist, this could be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made!

As for preparation and what to expect:

When I am seeing clients for the first time, I ask them to send me a brief overview of the specific challenges they are facing, as well as an overview of what they hope to accomplish in their session. This gives the client an opportunity to organize their thoughts and articulate their experience. It also helps set the tone for the session, and gives me and the client a place to start.

When they arrive, I welcome them and invite them to settle into a comfortable spot. Most clients are at least a little nervous at first, and like you, don’t know what to expect. The first thing I ask them is if they have any questions for me. Most will have a few questions about how we will be proceeding, so I’ll tell them a bit about my approach, and confirm that they are willing to give it a try.

By the end of the Q&A, most clients have relaxed enough that we can move on to the actual session. We’ll start by reviewing their summary. This is usually enough to get a really good conversation going.

We’ll talk about what is important to them, what they’re challenged by, and what their goals are. We’ll look at what they are or aren’t doing to either change their experience, or maintain it. We’ll consider what they may or may not believe about themselves, their circumstances, or other factors. We’ll identify any beliefs, habits, behaviours, etc. that may need to be adjusted in order to maximize their satisfaction and success. We’ll examine potential approaches to implementing changes the client identifies as desirable, and the client will go home with the task of exploring them. This may not all happen in one session, but it does all happen eventually, as we evolve in our process.

I’ll often recommend resources such as articles, books, videos, other experts, etc. for a client to read, watch or investigate, and I always ask my clients to reflect on what they’ve learned, so they can bring their insights to the next session. There is other homework too, but that is specific to each client and their particular situation.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are as many approaches to therapy as there are therapists in practice. Find the person, and the approach that work for you. Even if you connect with a therapist right away, you may find that as you progress, you eventually outgrow them. If/when this happens, celebrate! You should definitely consider this a success.

On the other hand, if you don’t connect with a therapist, if you feel uncomfortable, or if their specific approach doesn’t resonate with you, keep looking until you find one that does. There is no harm in shopping around, and in the end, you will benefit far more from taking the time to find the right therapist, than you will from enduring a relationship with the wrong one.

You should always feel validated, accepted and supported. Keep in mind though, that this doesn’t mean your therapist will always agree with you, or that they won’t call attention to problem areas. They should however, be skilled enough to be able to offer an evaluation or alternate view, without making you feel diminished in the process.

Therapy should be at least a little bit fun. It should also be interesting, thought-provoking, meaningful, insightful, challenging, and empowering. You may have the odd session that is particularly difficult or upsetting, but for the most part, you should leave your sessions feeling like there are more possibilities ahead now, than there were when you arrived.