Counselling FAQs – everything you ever wanted to know

Woman in a counselling session

When I reflect on my first experience of counselling, it really was a case of gathering up all my courage and hoping for the best. I took a leap of faith and, luckily for me, it turned out beautifully. In fact it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my mental health. So, if you’re feeling as anxious as I was, then please be assured this is completely normal. To help quell your nerves, I’ve written these counselling FAQs.

How can I choose the right counsellor for me?

1. Do a counselling discovery call

Have a quick zoom meeting or phone call with your potential counsellor, to check you feel comfortable talking to them. As a bare minimum, all therapists should be non- judgemental, empathic, genuine and interested in you. With the right counsellor you should feel a sense of connection and rapport. This is essential, as it will encourage you to explore your feelings and gain insight. Because it’s so important that you’re a good fit together, most therapists will offer a free, no commitment discovery call. Although your counsellor will put you at ease, counselling is therapy and not a chit chat. So it’s important to find a confidential space where you won’t be disturbed and to focus completely on you and your potential counsellor.

Woman looking at her laptop in a well furnished flat

2. Look locally for therapist recommendations

If you’re paying for private therapy, then you have the advantage of being able to shop around for a counsellor. So think about what may work for you, and what you want in a professional therapist. Book in a discovery call with a couple of counsellors and see who’s the best fit. Recommendations from friends and family can also be useful. Or even just check out a local networking site, such as St Albans’ Mums, or the equivalent in your area, to see who’s recommended.

Finally, I would take google reviews with a pinch of salt. These reviews can’t be verified, and are frequently written by well-meaning (and completely biased) friends or colleagues. Due to the strict confidentiality regulations around counselling, it’s hard for therapists to use client testimonials in their marketing. Ultimately, just because they have no testimonials or reviews doesn’t mean they’re not an experienced and proficient therapist. And lastly, trust your gut and your intuition. It should go without saying, but if you feel uneasy with someone then just move on and please don’t feel the need to justify it.

3. Consider the location of your counsellor

The location of your counsellor may feel like a small concern, but ease of access can really make the difference between counselling that’s successful and counselling that flounders after a few sessions. Try and make it as easy and convenient as you can to reach your counsellor. Often it’s best to start the search in your local area and then branch out farther, if you have no luck.

4. Make sure they have proper counselling qualifications

Registration or accreditation with either the BACP or the UKCP is what to look for. These are considered to be the governing bodies for the counselling profession. If your counsellor has membership with either of these organisations, then you can be assured they’re thoroughly trained, attending regular supervision and committed to their continued professional development.

Registration or accreditation with BACP or UKCP also means that if you suspect your counsellor is working in a way that’s unethical or unprofessional, then there’s an official complaint route and an expectation your concerns will be investigated.

I know counselling works best when attended every week, but I’m really busy, how important is this?

This is one of the top counselling FAQs. And I understand it can feel almost impossible to get ongoing time off work and/or childcare cover.

Counselling works best when it’s attended consistently. Ideally every week, at the same time, in the same place, with the same counsellor. Of course, you’ll want days off, but regularly missing sessions means that the uncovering, exploring and processing of difficult feelings becomes harder.

Most importantly though, if you’re in counselling to discuss a traumatic event you may be left with feelings that are hard to hold, alone. Weekly sessions will allow your counsellor to help you cope with, and contain, those feelings between sessions.

 For all these reasons. I recommend you get at least one month completely clear, before starting therapy.

Woman looking out of window.

I have heard of people starting counselling and getting worse, is this common?

It’s not uncommon for people to feel worse for a short time after starting counselling. However, this doesn’t mean they are getting worse. It’s a normal and natural part of the healing process to suddenly start feeling all sorts of emotions again. And to have to learn to sit with them.

Any competent counsellor will pace the sessions to suit you, and check how you’ve been feeling between sessions. This way your therapy will be effective and safe, not scary or overwhelming.

On the whole though, most people feel much better once they start talking about what’s been troubling them. Many express a feeling of lightness or relief. Some clients say they’ve been able to untangle their thoughts, or just simply feel better for having shared.

People talk about a therapy hangover what is this, it sounds unpleasant?

A therapy hangover refers to the mixture of ‘hard’ feelings which occur about 12 hours after a session. These can be feelings of extreme sadness, anger or irritation. And even physical feelings such as tiredness, thick headedness and apathy. Although this feels hard, it’s also a sign that therapy is working. That you’re digging deep and unearthing uncomfortable feelings.

I’ve touched on it earlier in my counselling FAQs, but counselling is not a chit chat. It’s also very different to talking with a friend. The point of counselling is to explore your life, and your feelings – in detail. The therapy hangover comes when the hornets nest is poked, and unpleasant memories are brought to the surface. It can be a hard process, but sticking with it and emerging the other side has many benefits. Not least improved insight, better self awareness and a sense of optimism and hope for the future.

What do I do if I don’t ‘click’ with my therapist once I’ve started counselling?

When counsellor’s train, they learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. So although this conversation may feel excruciating for you, it won’t be nearly so awkward for your counsellor. It’s a therapists job to get feedback from their clients about how they feel the therapeutic relationship is developing.

Firstly, let your counsellor know what the problem is – for example, you feel you don’t have a rapport with them. You can be as direct as you like, and you don’t need to worry about finding the right words.

After hearing your thoughts, your counsellor will probably suggest you explore them together within your session. If you’re willing to do this, then it can really help the therapeutic relationship to develop and thrive.

Sometimes though, and despite doing all your research and reading long counselling FAQs, you and your counsellor just won’t fit. And you deserve, and need, to have a counsellor you can work well with.

In this case, let your counsellor know you want to end the sessions. This happens to nearly all counsellors at some point, and there’s no need to feel bad. The most important thing is that you find a counsellor that fits.

Do you have a question you want me to answer in my counselling FAQs? Then email and I’ll answer it.

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