So, I'm starting counselling........... What am I even going to talk about? What do I do?
This is one of the most common considerations for people when thinking about starting counselling.
Common phrases and questions might include:
· There’s just so much stuff, I don’t know where to start.
· What am I even supposed to say?
· What if I just sit there, whilst my counsellor is staring at me, expecting me to talk and I can’t?
· How am I supposed to start telling someone everything about me, when I don’t even know them?
· Are there rules?
· Will they ask me questions?
· What if I can’t answer the questions?
· What if I get upset and it’s all just too much for me?
· How is talking about stuff that’s passed even going to do anything for me?
· Will the counsellor tell me what to do? What if I don’t want to do what they’re saying?
The above questions and phrases (the list could be added to quite significantly) are things I have heard a lot, not just from clients, but from friends, family, people I meet in social situations who ask me about what I actually do in my professional role and how the sessions are structured. Such questions and ponderings are natural. If we don’t ask, we will never know.
What am I going to talk about?
The answer to this, quite simply, is ‘anything you want’. Your counselling sessions are for you and that means that you have the freedom to talk about absolutely anything at all. When you are in a comfortable environment, with a trained professional, there will hopefully be a ‘knowing’ within you; a feeling that you are safe there. When we feel safe, we can relax into that knowing that all is welcome. Things that might not feel appropriate to say to others (or even to ourselves) can be spoken about in the nurturing parameters of the therapy room.
Sometimes, there may be one ‘thing’ that feels urgent for you, something that has been on your mind, taking up space for some time and you really want to get it out and talk it through. Other times, there may be nothing in particular, just lots of little things that have mounted up, over time. Sometimes, you may find yourself thinking about the ‘thing’ you are going to talk about in therapy and then end up working through something completely different when you are actually in the session. Maybe you don’t even have words, or things or ideas. Maybe you don’t have any direction at all, but just know that there is something going on that doesn’t feel okay for you right now.
What do you do?
As a counsellor (I can, of course, only speak on behalf of myself here and each person is different, which means there is no generic statement or ‘right answer’), but your counsellor is trained and confident in creating and providing an environment that invites you to ‘do’ or ‘be’ yourself. One of my favourite phrases is ‘we are all human’ and being human means meeting people wherever they are in any one moment (which varies from person to person). This means that the counsellor’s approach and way of being meets yours, in a way that will hopefully enable you to feel comfortable and secure during the session. There are no expectations, judgements or ‘set routines’ that you have to follow within counselling sessions. Therapeutic aims are based on you connecting with yourself in a way so that real, authentic communication can take place.
A fundamental theme within any therapeutic relationship includes your counsellor using active listening……….really listening to what it is that you are saying, in an attempt to see the world as you do, leaning in to how you experience things and getting a sense of what life is like for you. Gentle questions and prompts may be present: ‘tell me more about what that is like for you’, ‘help me understand what you mean when you say……’, ‘how do/did you feel about that?’
Such listening helps the flow of the conversation, so any anxieties about what you are going to talk about, how you have to show up, what you have to do, how you have to be, are diminished. The natural flow of the dialogue takes over, enabling you to go deeper into what it is that you are experiencing.
A useful reminder
You decided to come to counselling for a reason. You are your own expert. Use your time with your counsellor in a way that suits you, that meets your needs. You will know, as you go along, if this is taking place. Your counsellor will do regular reviews to enquire about how things are going for you and whether you feel that things are 'right' within the therapeutic relationship.
PS……….. It’s really great to talk, without feeling judged.
PPS……… It’s honestly not even half as scary as you might think it is