Counselling 101 : Things to Know Before Your First Counselling Session (Client’s POV)

Have you ever heard and/or considered going to counselling before? Whether it’s with a counsellor, a psychologist, or another qualified professional.

If you have, how did you find out about the service? What was your experience like? People might have different experiences with counselling; some find it a little unhelpful right after they finish the first session and never come back, yet some find it life-changing and helps a great deal in various aspects of their lives. 

So what factors affect a counselling session? Why do people have mixed responses? How do we make sure that our session runs smoothly if we ever decide to go to one?

I’m here to give you a brief series of tips and guides for your first ever counselling session!


But before we get to that, I’d like to quote…

Get help!

An #iconic scene from Thor: Ragnarok, not only was it funny but it was such a refreshing scene to see Loki gets thrown off by Thor like that. Some might find it (getting help) unnecessary, but it is always okay to ask for help when you feel like you can’t handle it by yourself anymore 🤗.

Before knowing and deciding what to do, first you have to know what the idea and process of counselling entails.

What is Counselling?

According to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, counselling is a verbal/talking therapy in which trained and professional counsellors help clients in finding their own solutions to their problems, using techniques such as explorations of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to understand oneself better. This can be done individually, in groups and/or families, even between a couple.

There are also various approaches that counsellors take in giving their services to their clients. For example, a counsellor with a Person-Centred approach might conduct their sessions differently than those who use a Cognitive and Behavioural approach, and some adopt an eclectic approach that integrates different approaches to meet the client’s needs and the goals of the sessions. So, just like in any other aspects of our lives, COMMUNICATION is key! It’s okay to be lost and confused at first, you can always ask questions to the service provider regarding these matters :) 

Who Do We Look For?

People might get confused at first, especially those who aren’t familiar with this whole thing yet. ‘Who do we look for if we wish to get a counselling session? What’s the difference between a counsellor, a psychotherapist, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist? Why are there so many options to choose from? How do we know which one is the most fitting to our conditions?

The terms counsellors and psychotherapists are often used interchangeably, but they are two different things even though they share a number of similar traits, and perhaps the definitions and the requirements of the two professions may differ depending on a number of factors. Problems that clients come up with if they seek a counsellor or a psychotherapist might include: relationship problems, bullying, bereavement, coping with stress, adjusting to new environments, understanding oneself better, etc. 

Psychologists can also offer counselling to their clients, but the difference with counsellors and psychotherapists is that clinical psychologists are able to diagnose clients and are trained to conduct psychological tests for the clients. They might meet with more ‘serious’ problems such as people with Major Depression Disorder, etc. 

Then the difference with a psychiatrist is that, not only they could provide counselling services, they are able to give prescriptions to their clients/patients when needed. Why did I use the word patient? Because psychiatrists are trained and qualified doctors. Yes, you read that right, doctors. Unlike me, who’s currently studying counselling for my master’s with my undergraduate background studying music therapy, my friend has to go through med school to become a psychiatrist here in Indonesia!

(disclaimer: the differences listed above are information regarding general differences between each profession. You may refer to other reliable sources to find out more!)

Anyways… You could always seek help no matter who they are, and if something isn’t within their field of expertise, they could refer you to someone who is suitable to meet your needs! (for example, if you’ve been struggling with symptoms of a mental disorder and you need a diagnosis but you come to a counsellor first, since they will not be able to give you what you need, you could be referred to a psychologist instead).

3 Tips For Your First Counselling Session (Client’s POV)

As someone who’s studying the field and have been a client myself, here are some tips to know before you go to your first ever counselling session (exciting!🥳):

  • Be open and honest 
  • This is one of the most important tips from me, because this changes everything. I remember the first time I went to counselling, I had no problem disclosing things about me, even the most personal ones, to the counsellor. However, I felt like the counsellor was too direct to me, especially since we just met. I felt like I was attacked with some of her questions, felt hurt and uncomfortable, and decided to never come back (this is what I’ve mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this article!).

    In hindsight, however, I thought that I should have at least communicated those things to the counsellor. I also didn’t know that disclosing my own trauma to someone else is supposed to hurt, and I didn’t like that. I didn’t see that part as essential to my growth; I couldn’t see that because I didn’t know. But now that I am learning to be a professional in this field, I have realised that I should have been more open to the counsellor and work together instead of terminating the sessions from my own end and not telling the counsellor about it. 

    So be honest! If you could tell the counsellor when you suddenly feel uncomfortable, hurt, or even angry during the session from your interaction with the counsellor, communicate.

  • Research 
  • If you’re comfortable, ask some of your friends or anyone you know who has been to counselling before! It could feel reassuring to know someone you’re close with has gone through the whole process and ask them about how you could do the same. 

    Also do some research online about how counselling usually goes, what the boundaries are (although you could ask the service provider about this as well), and places that are recommended by other internet users!

  • Create a journal (optional)
  • From a client’s perspective and from someone who easily forgets about things (lol), I find writing about insights I have gained after a counselling session finishes really helps me restructure my thinking as well as reflect on what happens during the session. 

    Closing Remarks

    I hope the blog article could be helpful to those who need to know more about counselling. Although of course this article only provides partial and general information about the subject, and you could always search for more (example: issues regarding ethics and boundaries, the counsellors’ roles, confidentiality, etc.) in other sources :) 

    This article was written with the intention to spread awareness of what counselling is and how it can be helpful, and share some of my personal experiences with counselling. 

    I hope that you get to find the peace you’re looking for, more positive ways to cope with your problems, and overall to know more about yourself as you engage in the counselling process if you ever decide to go to one. Seeking help, having a mental illness, and being different is not something to be embarrassed about ❤️. We love you #KURVIES, stay safe!

    By: Tamariskha Tibby

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