Seeing a counsellor is not something that many speak about openly. There is still some stigma linked to it and many are ashamed to say to they are, or were, in therapy. Let me tell you right now, there is no shame in seeing a counsellor. None at all. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. I have been seeing my therapist for a few months now and it has been incredibly helpful to me. I’ve come such a long way. And I know that I wouldn’t have been able to do so without my counsellor. So this post is dedicated to therapy and different things you might want to know about.
If you are afraid of your first session and don’t know what to expect, that’s perfectly normal. The first session is usually for you to get to know each other. Your therapist will ask you what brings you to counselling. You don’t need to have a solid answer to this, you can just say that you’ve not been feeling your best, you’ve been wanting to get to know yourself better or you’re wanting to work on some issues that you have been dealing with for a while or that have just arisen recently. Remember, there are no wrong answers; it’s all about you and your feelings. And I don’t mean this in a narcissistic way. You’re there to discover more about yourself, so it should obviously be about you.
Whether you have been going to therapy, you have your first appointment booked or you are considering seeing a counsellor, here are some things to know. It’s a bit of a long one, so make yourself your favourite warm drink and enjoy!
It can be an investment
A common misconception that people have about therapy is that it costs a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong; it can, but it doesn’t have to. Many companies now offer counselling for their employees (often online or on the phone) and you can see a counsellor through the NHS – or the equivalent where you live – for free. In the UK, we are very fortunate to have free healthcare so services like therapy, that are normally associated with high costs, can be used by people that might not have the means to see a private counsellor. If that is not the case where you live, I’m very sorry. Going to therapy should be something that everyone should be able to do. I suggest you have a look at online counselling which can often be cheaper and just as good.
I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to see a counsellor privately. In January, I decided that I wanted to invest in myself and my mental health. I found an amazing local therapist that I have been seeing since February or March of this year. I am going to be honest with you, I have spent a lot of money on my weekly sessions. However, I am happy to spend my money on this as it has helped me come such a long way. If you have the means to but aren’t sure whether or not you should take the leap, do it. I genuinely believe that every single person on this planet could benefit from seeing a counsellor.
If you do not have the means to see a private therapist, don’t put yourself down for it. You’ve done nothing wrong. If you are in school or university, chances are that you have access to (free) sessions with an on-campus counsellor. Your student services team can help you with that. Several charities also offer access to free or cheaper therapy. You can also use online therapy, as mentioned previously, which tends to be slightly cheaper. And your employer might also have counselling services offered to its employees. Finally, there are many helplines that you can call. If you are in a bad place mentally, please reach out to one of them. You are not alone in this.
It’s not like in the movies
I never had a very good image of therapy growing up. I didn’t understand how lying on a couch and speaking to someone who occasionally nodded and asked “how does that make you feel?” would be beneficial to me. Believe it or not, our dear friend Freud is to thank for this old-fashioned way of counselling. Luckily, this is not what therapy looks like anymore. Both my current and my uni counsellors’ offices had soft, comfortable armchairs and a box of tissues on the coffee table. It’s usually a very relaxed and cosy environment, meant to put at-ease.
In traditional media, therapists are often depicted as not saying anything useful and the main character will point it out. Although you will do most of the talking, there are also times where your counsellor will explain techniques or mechanisms to you. They will also help guide the conversation by asking you questions or by commenting on something that you said. A therapy session is much more of a conversation than what is depicted in movies.
Finding a therapist is like dating
I read this online somewhere and it is the truest thing. You must find a counsellor that you feel comfortable with and whose way of working suits you. As mentioned above, you will have deep conversations with this person, you will build a relationship with them. You will share a vulnerable side of yourself with this person, so feeling at-ease is of utmost importance. When you meet a therapist for the first time, it’s almost like a first date. You will both figure out if you can work together and whether or not this partnership will be beneficial. If it’s not the case, you do not have to see them again. You can find a different counsellor or service. You are going to invest a lot of time (and possibly money) in this so choosing someone that you can work with well is both crucial and your right.
It’s a judgement-free, safe space
It’s really nice to share things with someone who will not judge you, at all. A counsellor is there to listen to you and help you through whatever you might be going through. They are also legally bound to confidentiality (this can only be broken if you or someone near you is in imminent danger). And honestly, they’ve heard it all so whatever you feel like might be silly or weird is probably something that they have already dealt with and that isn’t actually that strange. It’s important to remember that there is nothing shameful about going to therapy. The stigma around seeking help for mental health (more on that here) is still there, though we have come a long way in being more open about it. It’s safe for you to be open about what is troubling you and there is no shame in it – on the contrary, it takes courage to start seeing a counsellor and it’s a really big step towards getting better. So pat yourself on the back, I’m proud of you.
You choose what you want to share
One of my close friends asked me what counselling was like and wondered if you had to share everything. The simple answer is no, you don’t have to share everything. You are the one in charge of the conversation and the direction it goes in. However, you will have to share what is on your mind to a certain extent. It gets easier as you build trust over time. Contrary to what many think, you don’t have to talk about your childhood and analyse that in great detail (once again, thank you, Freud). I will say this though: the more you are willing to share, the more you will get out of therapy.
You can talk about what’s on your mind that day, something that has been troubling you for a while or a specific mental health illness you might have (depression, anxiety, etc). Just go in with an open mind and don’t be in “defence mode”; they are trying to help you and you surely want the help if you’re there, talking to them. It can be a bit scary to open up but it will do you so much good, trust me.
Voicing your thoughts can help you understand them
I am a firm believer that talking to someone about an issue you have and putting into words what you are feeling is the best way to understand what is going on. Journaling has a similar effect, although a journal won’t speak back to you and ask you questions to go further in your reflection. A lot of times, when I’m feeling down I don’t necessarily know why. But if I tell someone that I am sad, they will ask me why. And it’s that enquiry that will force you to dig deeper and understand why you’re feeling sad, for example. Am I lonely? Am I hurt? Am I missing a loved one?
Going to therapy will give you a chance to dig deeper, as deep as your childhood if it’s needed, to understand where some of your feelings might be coming from. For instance, I am terrified of being abandoned which is rooted in my parents’ divorce when I was 8-years-old. Seeing my counsellor has enabled me to work through some of these issues that still affect me, 15 years later! Finally addressing an issue that you have had for a long time can feel very cleansing and like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. There is honestly no better feeling than knowing that your past doesn’t have as strong a hold on you anymore. I am rambling now, so just remember that opening about can help you understand your feelings. And understanding how you feel is the first step towards getting better.
You learn tools to help yourself
Therapy will not make all your problems disappear. If it were that easy, everyone would attend it. It will, however, give you the tools you need to work on yourself and deal with problems you might face. I have had moments recently where my brain automatically uses what it has learned in therapy to identify and understand a feeling, a need or a thought that is on my mind. A big reason that made me choose to go to counselling is my anxiety (here is my post dedicated to anxiety if you want to read more about it). Learning techniques on how to calm myself, as well as understand exactly what is happening in my brain and body has helped me a lot.
Going to therapy has also taught me that it’s okay to have baggage – we all do. Some just have bigger suitcases than others. We are all human and experience complex emotions that we don’t always know how to handle. We all feel down, lonely, anxious, sad or depressed sometimes. We all need a bit of help sometimes. And it’s absolutely okay for you to ask for it and receive it. You are not broken, you are not a failure, you are just human.
It takes time
You are not going to walk out of a therapy session one day and be a different person with no issues. You will become a better version of yourself that knows how to deal with issues, but that will take some time and work. Seeing a counsellor is part of working on yourself. It will not solve everything, but it will give you the tools you need to figure things out and the more often you use these tools, the more automated it will become. But this can only happen when enough time has gone by for you to heal and learn. Just as most things, therapy takes time. But it will do you so much good. And if you are waiting for a sign to start seeing a counsellor, this is your sign.
I hope you found this post somewhat helpful. Please feel free to reach out on Instagram if you ever want to have a chat. Take care of yourself, you deserve it. Until next time, my friend.