Counselling is a common talking therapy that is used to help people deal with lots of different life problems. However, like the term 'therapy' counselling is a term that is often also used interchangeably for talking therapies in general.
Counsellors who work with individuals will usually have had specific training to do so. Whilst couples counsellors will have had training in working with couples and their particular issues, and family counsellors with families and understanding the family dynamic. Some counsellors may also have completed more than one training and are therefore qualified to work with more than one type of client group.
Counselling may be short term (as few as 6-12 sessions), or it may be longer term (say 6-12 months) or even open ended. The length of the piece of counselling work undertaken will depend on the type of issue/s a client is looking to work on or address, and their individual circumstances.
The idea of counselling is often unnerving to people, and the idea of doing those sessions with another person can be downright terrifying. Nothing is really going to change that potential dread before your first appointment, but knowing what to expect makes it a bit less unnerving.
Couples therapy seems like a pretty simple idea: you sign up for a session when your relationship is in trouble and you need help dealing with it.
Perhaps you and your partner are arguing about the stupidest things and these rows quickly escalate into something nasty. Or your relationship feels stale, and if the two of you were not so busy leading separate lives you feel you would die of boredom. Sometimes there is a big issue - such as money, sex, infidelity, in-laws or children—about which you cannot get your partner to understand your viewpoint.
The main purpose of couples therapy is to put you and your significant other in a room with a neutral mediator to help you make sense of what's going on. If you're having trouble communicating with each other, then the counsellor is going to help guide you through talking about it.
The main point, as you'd expect, is to get you talking through whatever issues you have, or to simply figure out what those issues are. In the case of couples therapy, it's useful to find a counsellor who will suit both of you. Make sure to give them a call and talk over what you're looking for in the sessions before committing.
As you'd probably expect, the first thing the counsellor is likely going to ask you is something along the lines of, "What's going on?" or "Why are you here?" It sounds incredibly simple, but it's worth taking the time with your significant other to prepare to answer the questions. The fact is, an average couple might be unhappy for six years before seeking counselling. At that point, it's pretty tough to narrow down and fix any problems.
You want to prepare yourself to answer a few questions during that first session. In fact, the whole process is likely similar to one-on-one therapy, which means the therapist will likely ask about your history and expect both of you to be open, somewhat talkative, and honest.
Depending on the situation, your counsellor might also talk to you both individually for portions of the appointment.
Don't expect the first visit to a couples counsellor to produce results. Things might come up you never knew about the other person, or you might let something slip out of your own mouth that you didn't even know you thought. Basically, couples counselling has just as much potential of being positive as it does negative, but that's just part of the process.
Talking about your problems with a counsellor might not be easy. Sessions might pass in silence as you and your partner seethe over perceived wrongs—or you might bring your fights with you, perhaps even arguing during sessions. Both are OK. Your therapist can act as mediator or referee and help you cope with the resulting emotions and turmoil.
Be prepared for some awkward conversations, because chances are they'll happen. As time goes on you will probably set goals in therapy while you work out your issues. You will also learn to set boundaries with each other so that your relationship is more purposeful.
What to expect from Individual Counselling
Making the decision to attend counselling is a positive step and can offer support beyond that available from family or friends. It offers an environment in which you can express your feelings and gain deeper insight into your difficulties. Counselling sessions are also confidential, so you can talk about things you might not feel comfortable discussing with anyone else.
The aim is to help you find better ways to understand yourself, or to bring about changes to help you manage the way you think or behave to improve your mental and emotional well-being.
Listening carefully is the largest part of what all counsellors do. They make sure clients have clarified the problem areas in their own terms and help them decide what steps they want to take next. My goal is to always let the work proceed at the client’s pace.
In your first session, I will typically ask questions about you and your life. This information helps me make an initial assessment of your situation. Questions I might ask include:
Why you sought therapy at this time. A particular issue probably led you to seek counselling. I may ask you a series of questions about your life. For example, because family situations play an important role in who you are, I may ask about your family history and your current family situation. Other than knowing the reason you sought therapy, I may ask questions to find out if you’re suffering from other symptoms of your problem. For example, your problem might be causing difficulty at work.
It is completely normal to feel anxious at first, particularly if this is your first experience of therapy. It can take a while to get used to the situation but almost all clients report feeling significantly more at ease as the session goes along. It can be quite a relief to talk about difficult issues with someone who is understanding, who clearly withholds judgment and with whom you do not have an emotional attachment.
It is also quite common to feel tearful and cry much sooner than anticipated. You might feel surprised by the intensity of feelings but it is completely normal especially after having to hold so much, usually for quite some time. The tears might be as much about relief as about expressing sadness.