What happens in a counselling session?

I am a firm believer in demystifying counselling and the therapeutic process. It is part of the reasoning behind my Archers posts, to make theory accessible using a popular soap opera (which I happen to love). Many people are apprehensive about the idea of counselling and concerned about what will be expected, here I hope to answer come common questions and give an idea of how the process may work.

The initial session.

I believe it is important to have a contract between a therapist and a client. This sets out practicalities such as how to contact each other between sessions should it be necessary, payment and emergency contact details and so on. A written contract also makes clear the limits of confidentiality. What is said in a therapy session is of course confidential, however in cases where its believed someone is in direct danger of harm this knowledge needs to be passed on. (I have never yet come across a client who disagrees with this, however in the first session I explain with concrete examples what this exactly means).

As a member of the BACP I also adhere to their ethical framework and complaints procedure. I believe it is best practice to offer clients a copy of both of these so they feel empowered about making any complaint, and are reassured my practice is ethical and regulated.

The initial session will also cover issues such as what the client wishes to gain from therapy, previous experiences of counselling, and any particular questions or concerns they may have. For online counselling privacy will also be discussed, as well as how breakdowns in technology will be handled.

There is no couch

[Picture description A cartoon black and white image of a woman lying on a traditional psychiatrists couch while at the end of the couch an old, bald man is taking notes]

This is probably the traditional view of therapy. You lie down while the therapist asks you about your childhood. This puts many people off counselling, indeed many fear that against their own knowledge or experience they will be required to “uncover” childhood trauma. Other who know there is a history of trauma in their past do not wish to be forced to tell their story unless they are ready to do so.

I cannot of course say what happens with other therapists, however I believe in being led by the client, in believing them, in offering unconditional positive regard, and most of all in walking along side rather than leading. My training and experience provide me with the skills to work with a number of issues, including abuse and trauma, but there will never be a demand you uncover it for me,nor do I believe that it is necessary to tell your story in order to heal. Of course for some people the safe space to speak that therapy provides is vital, is healing, but that is decided upon by them not me.

So I will not blame your parents, demand you do the same, or insist that an incident you believe was trivial had some deep inner significance. You are the expert in your own life.

Its OK to Laugh

Many people assume therapy will be serious at all times. Indeed, there may be tears, anger, frustration, but there is also laughter. Looking into yourself, making changes, learning healthier habits, letting go of negative emotions makes room for the positive, allows you to smile, and indeed laugh. Therapy is not all about the negative.

I hope in this post to have addressed some of the common questions people have about counselling, and some of the fears. If you are interested in counselling you can email me on northumberlandcounselling@gmail.com and if you have any more general questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will try to answer them.