There’s a lot to consider when you start to think about counselling. Here are five things to bear in mind at the beginning.
1. How much can you afford to spend?
Tricky one this in some ways. How can you put a price on happiness, understanding, knowing your are in a better place? Well, I bet there are ways of doing it but you get my point. If money isn’t an issue you can skip this one. For most of us it is. Here are some things to think about.
It is possible to access free counselling. GP’s should be able to get you on a waiting list for counselling and this is worth considering. A lot of the counselling provided in this way will be time limited. Colleagues who provide this kind of short-term counselling have shared mixed feelings about it. Some find it helpfully focussed, some find it frustrating and unsatisfactory. All have known clients who benefitted and clients who didn’t.
There are charities that can be contacted directly such as Rape Crisis and The LGBT foundation. They provide free counselling both specific and general. Given that funding is being cut almost universally waiting lists may be long and the sessions may be time limited.
Many counsellors try hard to provide some sessions at a reduced rate and this is always something you can ask about. Reviewing progress once you have started counselling is another way that you can keep an eye on costs. Do you and the counsellor both believe that the work you are doing is therapeutically useful. Be open about money worries if you have them. I worked for several months with a client who had no income and was recovering from serious trauma. Money was an issue and we discussed it. A combination of reduced fees and regularly reviewing progress enabled her to continue to a point where she knew she would be fine ending counselling even if there were clearly going to be difficult times in the future.
Counsellors do charge different amounts. This can be due to location, experience, particular areas of work and the counsellor’s own attitude to their work. Some want counselling to be available as widely as possible and so charge as little as they can afford to do. Some operate sliding scales. Some firmly believe that it is important to validate the work and their experience by charging a price that reflects the value of our work. Fees are normally visible on websites and if not you should ask about them.
2. Does the counsellor need to have had specific training to address your needs?
Most training courses are quite general. Newly qualified counsellors will probably be fine working with general anxiety, loss and bereavement issues, relationship difficulties etc. However most courses do not provide in-depth training around issues to do with abuse, addiction or sexuality and sexual identity. Counsellors will vary in the amount of experience they have either directly or from other work they do or have done. Over the years counsellors will encounter a wider range of issues. They will deepen their knowledge through study, additional training, support groups and working with clients.
All this is to say that it is fine to ask about a counsellor’s experience before you start or even in the first session. Their website may show if they have had any specific additional training. It will give some sense of how long they have been qualified. A good counsellor will be happy to answer these questions.
3. Do you have a good feeling about this counsellor?
These days more and more information is available online about counsellors and it could be worth checking this out. Do they have a professional twitter feed. What do their counselling directory profiles tell you? Have you looked at their website? What is your gut feeling about this person? Some counsellors prefer to keep their profiles quite neutral and you may need to meet them in person to work out if they are right for you. Others, knowing that no one person is right for everyone, are happy to be transparent about their interests and beliefs.
If you decide to go ahead and meet the counsellor then remember the first meeting is still an opportunity for you to decide if you can trust this person and to determine whether you feel comfortable with them. Obviously the relationship will deepen over time but do not feel obliged to continue working with someone just because you have had one session. If you really did not feel at ease then you do not have to continue. It is your counselling, your choice.
4. What is your support network like?
Counselling can be life changing. It can become something you look forward to and find deeply rewarding. It can also be painful and challenging. Sometimes it can be all of these in the same hour.
I do ask potential clients about their support network. And I think it is advisable to bear this in mind when you are thinking about counselling. It is certainly something to consider with your counsellor when you start. If there is someone else who knows you are having counselling and who can support you after a difficult session that can be very helpful. If there is no such support then it would be wise to go quite slowly, ensure that you have plenty of time to centre yourself before leaving a session. Early on in private practice I was taken by surprise when a young client launched straight into a very difficult experience he had had and I only later discovered that he had no support around at all. That was challenging for us both. Having taken the plunge you might want to launch straight into the difficulties you are experiencing but your counsellor is only considering your well-being if they take things more slowly.
5. Finally, is the counselling for you or someone you care about?
If you are worried about someone close to you and think they would benefit from counselling then you need to tread very carefully. For counselling to be helpful the client needs to have undertaken it freely because they themselves thought it would be useful. Not their mother, partner, son or sister.
Some people might need help getting to appointments but if they are able to benefit from counselling they should be able to make the initial contact with the counsellor. For reasons of confidentiality the counsellor should make arrangements directly with the client – not with anyone else who is close to them.
So if you find that you are convinced that counselling would help a loved one and are becoming increasingly frustrated and distressed by their ambivalence or outright refusal to go down this path then maybe you would find it useful but you will have to leave them to find their own way!
So there you are. A few things to consider as you ponder this next step. And if you do go ahead with counselling may I wish you the best of luck. It can indeed be a life-changing experience. It was for me.