Worried About Your First Counselling Session? Here’s How to Prepare


Let's Talk Note in Blue Speech Bubble on Wooden Surface - Your First Counselling Session - Sandra Harewood Counselling


As I sit here trying to figure out what to say, coming to mind are the complicated feelings connected with doing something new for the first time; beginnings.

For many, it’s half way through the school summer holidays which leads me to think about the new beginnings that will follow.  Children embarking into adolescence at secondary school, adolescents exploring newfound independence at university or in the workplace.  And similarly, but differently, parents releasing their five-year-olds into the world for the first time to begin primary school.

There is excitement, anticipation, hope and pleasure.  But what lies not too far away, on the opposite side of the coin is fear, anxiety, disappointment, sadness, confusion and muddle.

These feelings are not new.  In Integrative Psychosynthesis, we often use stories and myths to inform us about the psyche.  Many of the ancient creation stories depict something new created from chaos and pain.

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the God Nun created earth from the surrounding chaos of the sea. And in a traditional African creation story, the God Bumba vomited up the sun after enduring stomach ache.  It would seem a place of darkness, despair and disorder can also be a force for growth and life.

Therapy is very similar as we try to create an order for something that’s hard, painful or chaotic; to change or make sense of our lives.

So, as I am writing this blog for the first time thinking, ‘who’s going to want to read this anyway?’ I’m connecting to what it’s like to decide to meet a counsellor for the first time. Being in a room with someone else, sharing your intimate thoughts.  Perhaps ‘who wants to listen to me?’ Maybe ‘I don’t have anything to say.’, or ‘do I want to share my story?’

It’s not unusual for people to be scared about seeking counselling, this can be for various reasons. Some feel that they should be able to handle their problems on their own, or that talking with a counsellor is shameful.  Others worry that going for counselling will make their problems all the more ‘real’ and they’ll be forced to face them head on which can be very frightening.

Some feel that they should be able to handle their problems on their own, or that talking with a counsellor is shameful.  Others worry that going for counselling will make their problems all the more ‘real’ and they’ll be forced to face them head on which can be very frightening.

Your First Counselling Session

If you’re thinking of giving counselling or psychotherapy a try, here are seven tips for handling your first counselling experience:

  1. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of therapy.  Are you looking for a few sessions so that you can get tools to help you with a particular problem, e.g. anger management, depression or anxiety?  Do you have a particular issue that you would like to talk about such as a recent bereavement or relationship difficulty?  Are you looking for longer term counselling to reflect on certain unhelpful patterns in your life?  Maybe you just want to be able to come in for an hour each week to talk about life.  Whatever it is, be clear and try to come prepared.
  2. Trust your instincts. You may have found your counsellor through a recommendation, a website or social media. Notice your first response.  You may be surprised how often your gut feeling is right. Does it feel like a good fit?  Ask yourself, ‘am I comfortable with this person?’ or ‘is this someone I could come to trust?’  There are many studies to show that the most successful counselling is that where there is a good therapeutic relationship between the counsellor and client.
  3. Make sure your counsellor gives you precise information which includes details about the cost of the session, their cancellation policy and confidentiality.  Ask about membership of a professional body such as the BACP or UKCP.  And finally, the counsellor should tell you something about how they work.
  4. Counsellors are professionally trained to listen to a range of issues.  Although each story is unique, a good therapist can safely hold what you share.  Try to be as open as you can, but understand it may take the time to build-up trust, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
  5. Take care of yourself.  You don’t need to choose a counsellor who lives close to home.  To keep a sense of privacy, it may work better seeing someone away from where you live.  After the session, you may notice that painful feelings.  If your counsellor doesn’t have a waiting space, find another space such as a nearby coffee shop, your car or if you’re using public transport, you could consider walking to the next station to give yourself time to let things begin to settle in.
  6. Don’t forget the sessions are about you. It’s your time.  Talk about whatever you want to, in your way and in your own time.
  7. Be realistic.  The amount of time you is in therapy is personal.  Counselling isn’t a quick fix, and the invitation is to be patient with yourself and the process.  Give yourself the time and space to tell your story.  With time counselling helps you to build healthier relationships, turn your life around and make long-lasting changes.

What matters most is that you should feel respected, listened to, and be in an environment that feels safe and non-judgmental.  You are by far the best judge of what works for you.  Stay open, take a deep breath, and begin your journey.

Over to You

Taking the step to start counselling is a tremendously courageous thing to do.  Appreciate yourself for that. It’s so normal to feel nervous and apprehensive.  That’s not a sign of weakness.  Your counsellor will not judge you.  The question is, how difficult is it not to judge yourself and give yourself the space to talk?

If you want to find out more contact me for a free 15-minute telephone initial consultation or book your first counselling appointment.