Walking through The Door.
Stepping into a counselling room for the first time can be a nerve wracking experience. So nerve wracking that the thought of it can put a lot of people off trying counselling. This blog post talks about what happens the first time you come into a counselling room with me.
Where I currently work, you have to ring the doorbell to come in - sometimes there is a receptionist, sometimes not. Either way, I will be there very quickly to welcome you and offer you a drink. If this is the first time we have met, I will give you a little bit of paperwork to complete while I make you a drink.
That first piece of paperwork is a questionnaire which asks you about how you have been feeling recently. It is useful because it gets your brain thinking about how you are feeling, and it also gives us a snapshot of your current emotional state. The questionnaire has a reference number on it, so you don’t need to put your name on it. It is really important to me that your confidentiality is protected in our work together. I will explain what happens to all the paperwork I have about you a little later on in this post.
The Counselling Room
When you have finished the questionnaire I will take you from reception to the counselling room. The room will have at least two chairs in it, of the same height, and you can choose which seat you would like to sit in - wherever you feel most comfortable in the room. Even if it looks like I have claimed a seat, if you want that seat, it’s yours. There will be fresh water and lots of tissues.
Finding Out About Me.
First sessions are generally about establishing a contract between the two of us, so they are not like regular counselling sessions, where the client will generally do most of the talking. I will spend some time talking about how I work as a counsellor. In plain English, this means that every counsellor is different, we have different theoretical approaches and methods we prefer. This is why it is good to find a counsellor you feel you can relate too and connect with. It might take a couple of tries before you find the right one.
So basically I tell you a bit about myself, and what I generally do when working with clients. I favour using a metaphor for this explanation. If we are standing at the base of a mountain, and where you want to be, or what you want to achieve through counselling is the top of the mountain, we will find a way up there together.
I will not dictate the path we take, because this is your journey and you know the best way to get where you want to go (although it might not feel like that at the moment). But by trusting your instincts and talking about what you want to talk about, we will find the best path for you. I walk along side you on this journey, and most of my job is to look around and wonder what is going on. Like a fresh pair of eyes, trying to understand how you see the world, perhaps drawing your attention to items we talk about as we travel together, or wondering if certain paths connect up.
I will talk you through this analogy, and if it feels like you could work with me, we will get down to some details.
The next topic we talk about is confidentiality, what stays inside the room and what doesn’t. Confidentiality is foundational to our counselling relationship. I also explain about my governing body - The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and what to do if you have any complaint against me.
I will check throughout this process if you have any questions or concerns. I will also cover some housekeeping, for example how to get in touch with me if you need to, cost and cancellation of appointments, how to end our contract together, where the loos are etc.
Signing Our Contract
If you are happy to continue working together, we will then sign a contract, which we will go through together and sign together. The contract does not bind you to any financial commitment or number of sessions. Here is a blank copy of the client contract I currently use at the time of writing this post.
Click here to see my contract.
Finding Out About You.
The next part of the session will be finding out a bit more about you, I will ask you some questions and write down your answers. This is the only time I will make notes during our sessions. I will ask your name, address, contact details. I will also ask for your Doctor’s name, address and telephone number, and an emergency contact name, number and their relationship to you. There are other practical questions too, for example, do you have any allergies? are you on any medication? or do you have any ongoing medical conditions?
Then I will ask you what has brought you to therapy and what you would like to accomplish in counselling - i.e. what does the top of your mountain look like? I will ask you about your family background, any recent bereavements and support network to begin to build a picture of your world.
We will discuss if you have suicidal thoughts or if you self harm in any way. Your answers to these questions would not prevent me from working with you, we have already signed our contract to work together by this point, so I’m on board. I ask about these areas to get a fuller understanding of where you are at, and what you are dealing with currently. Also to show, that it’s okay to feel like this.
Hopefully, with time, you will feel safe to talk about those kinds of feelings in our sessions together. I will ask about alcohol and drug use as well, again, for the same reasons - I hope that you will eventually feel safe and accepted enough in our counselling room to be open and honest about all of your feelings, behaviours and thoughts.
Throughout this initial session I will check if you have any questions or concerns, and will check again in the second session.
Any notes or paperwork that are generated by our work together will remain confidential. I do this by keeping anything with your personal details e.g. name, address, contact number etc. separate from notes specific to what we talk about in our sessions. These session notes are marked with an identification number so that I know who they belong too. Client contact information and session notes are held in two separate secure locations that only I have access too. All electronic data I have regarding you is held in password protected systems.
Hopefully this has given you an idea of what to expect in our first session together. If you have any other questions please get in touch- all my contact details as on the info page of my website. If you would like to be notified about new blog posts you can join my mailing list.
I am looking forward to seeing you soon.