How to get the best out of counselling

by | Oct 5, 2021 | Thoughts


Thinking of getting some counselling? Here’s what I’ve learned from years of being a client…

I’ve turned to counsellors for support throughout my life. It’s one of the reasons I work as a counsellor today and I will continue to seek therapy if I’m struggling. It can be a major investment not only of your money and time, but also your emotional effort. So how do you get the very best out of the experience?  Here are some of the things I’ve learned from years of being a client…

1. Take time to find the right counsellor for you

Unless you are undergoing therapy that is free at the point of use from the NHS or a third sector organisation, then you may turn to counsellors working in private practice where (in Wolverhampton) you can expect to pay anything from between £35.00 to £90.00 or more for each session. Waiting lists for NHS therapists are currently running into months leaving people to make the difficult decision to pay for help, though admittedly, not all of us can afford to do so.

It’s a noisy and confusing market out there, so you will need to devote some time to finding the right counsellor for you.

I would suggest narrowing your search to directories of therapists who are registered with organisations such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society since these membership bodies promote ethical and professional standards and, importantly, offer recourse for clients. (The counselling profession is not regulated in the UK. In theory, anyone can set themselves up as a counsellor or psychotherapist).

Before you start your search, you might write down the things that are important to you. For example, you may want a counsellor who specialises in an issue or life event you’re facing, or you may want a counsellor who understands your culture, faith, or ethnicity.

The cost of therapy may be an important issue to you. Does the counsellor offer a sliding scale for people on low incomes – or flexibility around the number and frequency of sessions? While it may be possible to list some of the things that are important to you, ultimately, it’s the quality of the therapeutic relationship that is key. Look for a counsellor who’s a good ‘fit’ for you. It’s difficult to predict with whom you might experience this kind of connection, so ask the prospective counsellor if they offer a free session to check how they work and most importantly, how it feels for you.

2. Being open and honest in counselling 

My very first experience of counselling nearly stalled because as a very young woman, new to therapy, I believed I had to impress my counsellor, to talk about ‘significant’ and ‘meaningful’ things. She noticed my incongruity and, over time, as I started to trust her, I could be a little more open and honest. Of course, she earned my trust, by keeping me safe, helping me to contain painful and overwhelming emotions and, most important, never, ever, ever judging me. I learned that I could say anything knowing that she would accept me as I am. It’s not always easy to be open and honest in the therapeutic relationship, especially if your trust in people has been seriously undermined or compromised by trauma or other experiences. Being accepted as you are can be a powerful and liberating experience and the key to making the changes you want.

3. Be aware that sometimes counselling can be painful

Like many clients, I very often felt ‘lighter’ somehow and a little more hopeful as I unburdened myself in the counselling room. Or else, I’ve felt a positive change that comes with a greater understanding of myself. But it would be wrong to say that the counselling experience is always a positive one. I’ve frequently felt great anxiety, needing to pace the room, finding it difficult to settle even in the presence of a calm and empathic counsellor. Or else I’ve found myself in floods of tears, trying but failing to stem my grief or shame. I have left such sessions feeling exhausted, drained, and wondering why on earth I was putting myself through this process. It is as well to be aware of the troughs as well as the peaks of counselling. Being prepared to look at and describe painful experiences and feelings takes courage, energy. If you’re struggling with the process, talk to your counsellor. After all, they’re there to help.

 4. Don’t expect to be ‘fixed’ by counselling 

We live in a world that has a solution to every problem albeit at a price. But some of the things we may be struggling with in our lives may elude the ‘quick fix’. In some cases, the best we might hope for is to cope a little better or to be a little kinder to ourselves. Sometimes, the thing that needs ‘fixing’ in our lives is not down to us, but something in our world – a bullying boss, an abusive relationship, a poorly paid job.

Counselling doesn’t come with a magic wand. It’s about helping us to understand ourselves a little better, to make choices that are more aligned to our needs and our values. While counselling won’t always ‘fix’ the problem, it can very often nurture the self-awareness and acceptance that can help you grow from it.

*I offer a free initial session to people who are considering counselling. To arrange one, email [email protected] or call 07799761825.


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