Counselling & therapy is space and time for you! It can provide different things for different people:
time to talk about something difficult or that you’ve never shared before
an opportunity to explore aspects about yourself, your relationships and your life that you want to make sense of
time to offload stress and look at practical ways of coping better
time just to recognize that someone can be there for you
a safe place to work things out
Counselling & therapy isn’t about the counsellor or therapist giving you all the answers or lots of advice but it’s a place where you can be supported to find your own solutions to the issues in your life. This can help to build your confidence and self-esteem
There are different forms of counselling & therapy such as Congnitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Integrative Counselling. These are influenced by:
what kind of training your counsellor or therapist has received
what they have learnt helps and supports young people
what young people have told them works
All counsellors and therapists are a bit different so ask them at the beginning to describe their approach to you to help you see whether they work in the way that you would like.
All the way through your counselling or therapy experience do keep letting your counsellor or therapist know whether you have any ideas about what you feel would help you more; e.g. fewer silences, more opportunities to use creative techniques, more feedback etc.
Mental health charity Mind provide a comprehensive guide to different types of counselling & therapy.
This very much depends on where you get your counselling. If you receive free counselling or therapy from your local GP practice there may be a suggested limit of 6 -12 sessions offered to you. The wait very much depends on the service that you’re going to.
Always ask how many sessions you’ll have at the initial assessment so you know where you stand, what is negotiable and what is set in stone.
You’re entitled to know how long the wait might be so ask this question at the start. If you’ve been waiting longer than expected then do give them a call to double check where you are on the list and how much longer it will be.
The first meeting usually starts off with filling in the necessary forms with your personal details like your name, phone number, address, date of birth, ethnicity and sometimes your GP’s details. They might also ask you to tell them a bit about the reasons why you are coming to counselling or therapy and what you hope to get out of it.
Initial assessments are a chance for you and the service to double check that this is the right place for you. You might want to ask:
what’s the waiting time?
what type of counselling or therapy do you offer?
what will a normal session be like?
is the counsellor / therapist qualified?
can they do evening appointments?
can I see a male/female counsellor or therapist?
Write down some of the questions you want to ask and take them with you. It’s easy for them to go out the window once you get there!
Most services will explain their confidentiality policy. If this is not done right at the beginning of your assessment then why not ask them to tell you about it so that you can be sure about what you want to share and how your information will be responded to.
They should explain what elements of your sessions stay private between yourself and the counsellor and at what point the counsellor or therapist is obliged to share your information due to the a risk of potential/ actual harm to yourself or others.
It’s completely appropriate for you to ask what’s going to happen to all your details and notes from the assessment. All services will be able to tell you how they are going to ensure your data will be protected. You may want to double check with your service whether they will always ask for your consent before talking to your GP or family and check out with them what kind of things would they need to share should this circumstance arise.
This can happen at any stage of the process. If you feel it very strongly at the first session it may be important for you to air this right away and ask whether you can have another counsellor or therapist from the service.
It can also happen during the counselling & therapy sessions and you should bring it up with your counsellor or therapist so that you can try and find a resolution about what you feel.
You may feel something negative like: not being heard, uncared for, unworthy, etc. By sharing this openly with the counsellor or therapist you may find that this is something ‘left over’ from past relationships and experiences.
This is a common worry and can often reflect familiar concerns that we all have when meeting new people and forming new relationships – will they think badly of me, or will they understand me for who I am, or judge me incorrectly or even not like me?!
All counsellors and therapists are trained to develop their abilities to be non-judgmental, respect differences and diversity and work in a non-discriminatory way.
If you do feel judged then it’s really important that you try and be as open as you can with the counsellor about what you’re feeling. You can explore what’s going on and take some time to find out more.
How much you tell them is completely up to you. Pace yourself so that the trust in your counsellor or therapist can develop gradually. Once you feel safe you may find the flow of what to say comes much more naturally
Jot things down as they come up for you in the week as this can help you formulate your ideas of what to bring to your next session. Sometimes this helps as it can feel a bit foggy when sat at the beginning of your session, not knowing where to begin.
It’s difficult to say the exact things to look out for as really you’re the best judge of this!
Here are at 42nd Street, young people notice all sorts of changes through counselling & therapy, for example:
I feel less alone, anxious; depressed; stressed; sad; overwhelmed; frightened; angry, suicidal etc.
I can deal better with my problems
I know my strengths
I feel like I understand/ like myself better
I notice how hard I was on myself and where that came from
I now know my feelings were normal grief emotions and I am not alone
I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel
I know I can seek counselling & therapy in my life again should I ever need it
There may be physical and practical changes too, for example:
I can sleep better
I now have some ways to calm down
I am not so argumentative with others
I have cried with the counsellor/therapist which is a first
I am getting out more with friends
I no longer self-harm
I eat better
I now write a diary
I do exercise that helps
I left/strengthened a relationship
I’ve got a job
What do I do if I’m not coping between appointments?
There are many different reasons that may make you feel as if you’re not coping between sessions:
the gaps between weekly counselling or therapy sessions can feel like enormous waits
events may occur in the week that catapult you into feeling right back at the beginning
you feel too low to attend your session
you notice things arising in your mind/ dreams/ emotions that you want to share with your counsellor for fear of forgetting them by the next session
Finding a counsellor/therapist that you trust, can talk to and attach to can feel amazing. You may feel a little in awe, or like you really need them and depend on them.
Different services have different policies; some counsellors and therapists will give you a contact number or email to reach them on and others may encourage you to really clock what you feel and what you want to ask so that you can bring it to the next session.
If you’re finding it hard in between sessions, tell your counsellor or therapist! Remember they’re trained to be there for you through all these stages. Here are a few ideas for looking after yourself (you can find others by talking to your counsellor or therapist):
go for a walk after sessions
go somewhere quiet to reflect straight after
meet someone who you trust to talk things through during the week
write a diary (which you can share if helpful next session)
pursue a hobby that feels like it boosts your mood and self-esteem
draw in a sketchpad or listen to music
pursue a learning that keeps you involved
do some exercise
If you’re really struggling to cope between sessions then seek support from your GP.
Even if your counsellor or therapist seems understanding but then goes on to end your session on time this can activate difficult feelings like:
do they care?
why not give me a bit more time?
no one is there for me
how can they do that?
I feel so low
These feelings are all important to share with your counsellor or therapist as they happen, or maybe even write them down after you go home so that you can bring them next time. You might want a counsellor or therapist to extend their session but counsellors/therapists do not generally do this.
Always try to plan your day so that you don’t have to rush to something straight after a session. Taking care of yourself and finding ways and people to help you do this can really help you look after yourself.
Crying is normal and could happen at any time in your sessions. The counsellor or therapist may pass you some tissues but some services have very clear policies which discourage the counsellor or therapist from touching or hugging young people. For many young people this would not help them in their moment of tears.
To develop the trust to freely cry in your sessions and feel that the counsellor or therapist is ‘being with’ you in your emotional expression can be empowering. Firstly, to recognize that your feelings are important and someone can be there for you and secondly, it can give you new ways in expressing, containing, naming, self- soothing and understanding your intense feelings. This learning from your session can give you the very strong message that you can do this and support is there.