Counselling: What can you expect?

Tessa Burns MartinPsychotherapy

Written by Aleeza Mohamed, Registered Psychologist

When you first make the decision to see a counsellor, it is normal to experience a whole host of emotions. Fear, anxiety, excitement, and doubt are just a few of the many feelings that can arise. You may also have a number of questions going through your mind such as: What kinds of questions will I be asked? How much will I be expected to share? Is it possible for my situation to change? What can my counsellor do or say to help me with my concern?

If this experience hits home for you, it is important for you to know that you are not alone. All of us at some point in our lives come across difficult situations or events which can leave us feeling like we are struggling. And while often we may receive messages from the outside world that to seek support in these times means we are not capable of healing on our own, this is not the case. On the contrary, reaching out for help signifies that you have the awareness to recognize your concern and are willing to work towards finding ways to create change in your ability to cope, your situation, or both.

As a therapist, I find that my friends, family members, and other professionals often ask me to explain what exactly counselling is and how it can help. The truth is that each therapist has their own unique way of working with a client and viewing the counselling process. While no one way is right or wrong, what is important is that you find a therapist whose style and view of counselling feels like a good fit for you. Some of the factors which I believe are essential to offer to a client include a setting in which they feel welcome, a safe and non-judgemental space, and providing a sense of patience and understanding.  I also hope to convey to my clients that I believe that their particular concern, whatever it may be, is important and worth addressing.

Many people often begin counselling with the belief that their counsellor will give them specific advice on what to do or how to resolve their concerns. It makes sense that we would want to view counselling within the same framework as other professional service. For example, when we go to the doctor, we have a particular concern and expect to receive a concrete answer or solution. However, I believe that to subscribe to this belief within the field of counselling is to believe that people are not capable of helping themselves. This view discounts the strength, resilience, and inner wisdom which I trust that all people inherently possess.  My belief is that people often come to counselling at a time when the way they are leading their lives does not align with their idea of the lives they wish to be living. My role then, is to assist individuals in accessing their strengths so as to empower them to navigate their concern in a way that best fits their own life. Thus, while I can certainly appreciate an individual’s desire to be given a quick solution to their concern, my hope is to provide a setting in which over time, they can explore their experiences, deepen their insights, gain a greater sense of personal control, and an increased belief in their ability to cope with life’s challenges.

At this point you may be asking yourself an important question: If I have the strength and wisdom to navigate my own concern, what can my counsellor do to help? Working with a counsellor can help you explore your concern with someone who can offer a different perspective. Your counsellor can pose questions or various ways of looking at the situation that you may not have considered. As a result, you may gain further understanding or knowledge of how you think, what you feel, and what types of change you want to work towards. Your counsellor can also provide you with concrete coping tools which can help you to regulate or manage the stressful thoughts and emotions that you experience while working through your concerns. And while you may not receive specific advice, your counsellor can certainly help to generate suggestions or different alternatives to explore. Throughout your counselling, you have the right to be an active contributor in the decision making process. This can include choosing what is discussed, deciding what and how much you want to share, and which suggestions you feel comfortable trying.

All of this is not to say that the decision to embark on counselling is not a difficult one. Self-growth and exploration of our experiences, both negative and positive, requires much effort, strength and personal commitment. But if we are willing to invest in ourselves, change is possible.