What happens in the first session?

Attending your first counselling session can be daunting. It can often bring up all kinds of thoughts and feelings.

When arriving at their first session some clients have said to me:

  • how nervous or anxious they were on the drive over
  • how they really do not know what to expect
  • that they were worried about feeling judged
  • that they were not sure what they were going to talk about

These are just some of the thoughts and feelings you may have (there may be others too) but all and any emotions about your first session are entirely normal. Deciding to go to counselling is a big step to take.

Each counsellor or therapist will have their own way of doing things depending upon the type of counselling they offer and because of who they are as an individual. The first session is likely to be different from future sessions as it may be more structured with the counsellor asking lots of questions.

The first session is often called an “assessment”. This does not mean you are being tested. Instead, the assessment is a collaborative process where you and the counsellor get to know one another, and to find out more about what has brought you to counselling.

What might be covered in the first session?

There are certain things that will usually be covered in the first session. This may include (but not limited to):

  • Checking that the counsellor has the skills, knowledge and expertise to support you
  • Providing details of the length of each session and how often they occur
  • Whether you have had counselling before and how you found that experience.
  • Finding out about what has brought you to counselling – the issue or problem that you would like to explore
  • Asking you what you hope to achieve from sessions and whether you have a particular goal or aim
  • Agreeing how you and your counsellor are going to work together
  • Inform you which professional body they are registered with
  • Discuss confidentiality and its limitations
  • How long the counselling will last, and how many sessions they can offer
  • Who will decide when counselling is to end?
  • What to do if either of you need to miss or cancel a session
  • Their fees and cancellation policy
  • Discuss risk including safe harm and suicidal ideation
  • Perhaps ask about your family relationships and support system
  • Look at how you cope with stress and what you do for self care
  • How records are kept, and how you can gain access to see the notes should you wish to
  • Give you the space to ask questions, and voice any concerns that you may have
  • You might also like to ask more about the counsellor’s training, experiences and approaches

At some point the counsellor may also invite you to sign a contract which sets out the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.

What are you feeling in the first session?

It is so important that you find a counsellor who is the right fit for you. So I would say that one of the key things about the first session is to ensure that you feel comfortable with your counsellor (this does not mean that all sessions will be comfortable and easy because sessions can involve uncomfortable feelings and difficult emotions and subjects) but you need to feel that your counsellor is someone that you will be able to open up to. Some things to consider include:

  • Do you like the counsellor?
  • Do you think that you will be able to trust them with what you want to talk about?
  • Do you feel that they are paying attention to you and are being empathetic?
  • What emotions are coming up for you and do you feel able to tell them?

How do you feel about having more sessions with this counsellor?

Towards the end of the first session the counsellor will usually ask how you have felt about the session, and how you feel about working together (well this is always my approach). If you are not sure and need more time to think, that is ok. Otherwise, you may agree to work together.

What if I do not want to continue with sessions?

If you do not feel that you will be able to speak openly and honestly with your counsellor, then they may not be the right fit for you. You may need to speak to more than one counsellor before you find the right fit. If at the end of the first session you decide that you do not wish to continue or that the counsellor is not the right fit for you, then it is absolutely fine to let the counsellor know. Equally the counsellor may decide that you are not the right fit for each other. There can be a number of reasons for this including that the counsellor does not have the relevant experience to support you. If this happens the counsellor will usually offer to refer you to another counsellor who perhaps offers a different type of counselling or who might be a better fit.

What now?

I hope from reading this blog that some of the mystery has been removed around attending your first counselling session. You may well still feel nervous about attending but you will hopefully have a sense of what is to come whether that be with me or with another counsellor. Please get in touch today if you are interested in having counselling with me. I am contactable via phone, email, WhatsApp, using my contact form – click here for my contact page. I look forward to hearing from you and welcoming you to my therapy room on the outskirts of Andover.