When (or: if) you are considering to go see a counsellor it might at first feel daunting, and for some even scary. What can you expect? What will happen? Will a counsellor tell you how to live your live? Although I have addressed some of these questions and concerns in my Frequently Asked Questions, I think it is helpful to explain the practical aspects a little bit more.
A Safe Space
Counselling starts with the creation of a space where you can feel safe. Confidentiality is one of the building blocks of that process; it creates trust and knowledge that what we discuss in the room will actually stay in the room. No information shall leave that room, unless you agree to it being shared.
Another crucial building block is that you need to feel able to say whatever it is you want to say, without fear of judgment. A counsellor will never condemn you for your thoughts, your actions, your feelings. The space where you and your counsellor work needs to be safe for both, and strong opinions hinder that. My judgments would stand in the way of my understanding you, and where you come from. I will never truly know what it is like to walk in your shoes, but it is my job as a counsellor to come as close as I can.
You and I need to be able to trust each other, because without trust it is not possible to be honest, and vulnerable. However, to build trust takes time. Trust is the result of our actions and of our words, and it grows over time. Therefore, our first sessions together will be more about getting to know each than about diving straight into the work of counselling itself.
I will need to make an assessment of who you are, what brought you to counselling, and what made you who you are today. I will ask questions about your past, about your current work situation, and your current family constellation. Without this kind of information I would be working in the dark. An intake form helps in gathering this information quickly.
Counselling is about Empowering You, the Client
The main intent of counselling is to help clients make decisions about their own lives, and to help them adjust to events outside their control. This could be about a wide variety of topics: love, romance, career, loss, study choices, behaviours, etcetera – the list is endless. Anything that happens in life can be the topic of counselling. It can be very specific and concentrated on one topic, or it can be as broad as “personal growth” or “self actualisation”.
Although the verb “to counsel” means “to advise”, a good counsellor will never advise you what to do or not to do, what to read or not to read, whom to meet and whom to stay away from. The foundation underlying modern counselling is that nobody knows your life as well as you do, and that the basis for your decisions and behaviours lies within you. The responsibility for your actions starts and ends with you.
Instead, counselling helps you better understand why you do the things you do, or why you feel the things you feel. From that understanding you can adjust the choices you make, and you can alter the thoughts you have and the emotions you experience.
To help you achieve that, a counsellor will ask questions and will listen to how you see your life, with all its challenges and adventures. He or she might make suggestions on inspirational information that appears relevant to you, or on exercises and experiments you might want to try. In a way, a counsellor needs to be a mirror so you can see those aspects of yourself that might have seem forgotten in the busy-ness of our lives. At its heart, counselling is about reconnecting you to your own essence so you can make decisions that suit the requirements of your soul.
Duration of the Process
It is very hard to say at the onset of a process of counselling how long it might take. It depends on different things: the issues at the heart of your counselling desires (some are easier to find resolution for than others), the demands of your normal day-to-day life, the pace of progress made, the commitment to the process outside the counselling room, the quality of our working relationship, etcetera.
Sometimes the engagement with certain aspects of our lives lead us to want to explore other difficulties or hindrances in life that also require attention and awareness. Because you are the client, you decide how deep you would want to go, and for how long a period of time.
And when and if you feel it is time for a temporary break of our work together, or if and when you feel you have found what you needed or desired, you can at all times indicate your wish to postpone or terminate our work together. Usually, such termination would happen in one final session in which we both walk through the sessions we did together, to summarise what we did, and where it is you are heading.