It can bring up many strong emotions setting up and attending your first counselling session, and it may have taken a long time to pluck up the courage to start. What will I say? What happens if I get upset? What if I can’t think straight? There can be so many doubts and fears, it can actually put you off even coming!
However, doing a bit of preparation in advance can help calm your nerves around your first session. Some people like to make notes in readiness, to help them remember what they wanted to talk about. Indeed, keeping a journal as part of your overall counselling journey can be a good idea.
Perhaps one of the first things to note is ‘why now’; what has happened to prompt you to start counselling. This may be connected to more general issues in your life that you want to talk about. So really thinking about why you want to come can be helpful. Talking about this with trusted friends or family may also help you be clear about this. Some of these people may have also had some counselling and will be able to tell you what helped them.
It is also a good idea to think about what you would like to get out of counselling, so you can set goals. They might be something like, ‘be more confident to talk to people’ for example, or something more complicated. It is ok if you can’t think of any clear goals, as this is something we can work out together. Thinking about what you might want to get out of counselling can also help later, by checking whether you feel like you are moving forward in the process. Another good idea during this preparation time, is to jot down any questions you would like to ask during the first session. It is of course completely fine if you feel that you would prefer to hold your ideas in your head and not write them down.
On the day of your first meeting, if possible, make sure you have had something to eat and are wearing comfortable clothes, to help you relax in the session. Also, if you can, try to leave plenty of time before your session so you are not rushed, as this will help when you do make the shift into counselling. Likewise leaving time afterwards can help you process what has been talked about.
There are normally quite a few things that need to happen during the first session that ‘lead us in’ or ‘break the ice’, and it is my job to make you comfortable and take us through these. Firstly we will go through the main points of the contract to check that you understand and agree with it. There is also the chance here to ask any questions about the contract. This process can sometimes take the first twenty minutes of the session. We will then need to go over the Client Information Form to discuss any needs that may become apparent.
After this we will go through what has brought you to counselling and your hopes for the future. It is important that you feel free to ask any questions regarding anything we have talked about, this is your time to use for yourself!
It is good to try and be as open and honest as possible during the first and following sessions. One of the great strengths of counselling is that it provides a place where you can be completely truthful. Equally, it is also important to be realistic about what can be achieved in the first session, if you expect to walk out with all your concerns sorted, then you may be disappointed!
Lastly, it is very important that you trust your gut instincts with regard to myself (or any Counseller). If you feel that we are not the right fit, then it is good to notice that. It might take a couple of sessions to decide, but if you do not get a positive feeling about the relationship, then it is ok to say so.
These are links to YouTube clips to help with your first counselling session: