Counselling: Preparation, Expectations and Help

Counselling has been something I have used recently to help myself due to a few mental health problems that have arisen, all anxiety-related. I went into the experience having researched and read up about other people’s counselling sessions, but not actually fully expecting anything really – just a lady with green tea, a notebook and glasses, sitting facing you with her hands folded on her ankle-length floral skirt, the room smelling of air freshener and old flowers. Counselling is something many teenagers, young adults and adolescents may need, and throughout later life as well; with generalised anxiety disorder following depression in the most common mental health disorders, there are an increasing number of mental health centres, websites and help resources available, and even more counselling sessions, therapy techniques and people struggling with mental health illnesses than ever. Technically speaking, one of four people reading this post will have some sort of mental health disorder right now, and one in nine people reading this will have an illness for at least ten years into the future. It may seem depressing, but the truth is that right now, we have better resources and help foundations than ever, and the stigma against mental health, particularly depression and forms of anxiety is becoming less and less. People are now more informed, more knowledgeable, more understanding of such problems; only 20 years ago, one in around fifty people would have said they had a mental health disorder, when the real figure would have been around twenty of the fifty (sadly, the number of cases of depression, almost all forms of anxiety and most other mental health disorders have increased rapidly since the millennium).

After reading such figures, you might be feeling a little unsure about the following contents of this post; will it be even more melancholy? Will you be told that counselling is simply lead by a woman in her hundred-and-somethings with white hair and a constant stream of green tea in her china cup, complete with matching floral saucer? No. This post is going to explain how to prepare for a counselling session, what to expect, and a snippet of my own experience and how it has helped me. Don’t forget to share this around if it is useful to you!

The stereotypical idea of a counselling session should not look like my attempt above. My own session wasn’t awkward or slow, if maybe a little strange at first, and the lady wasn’t ancient, or flower-smelling, or wearing a huge skirt, or drinking any type of herbal tea. The building looked normal and was located in a huge park, and as soon as we arrived we were greeted and given questionnaires to complete; my mum and I had to answer each question according to how I felt and see if we got the same answer, based on a time scale. For example, some of the questions were based on the length of time I had spent worrying or having problems, to which we both answered over a year. Others were clearly modelled for specific issues, including if I had any obsessive patterns that I needed to do before going out, seeing anyone, or any habits that were a necessity to complete.  The questions were quite basic, but they gave results of which forms of anxiety I had, as well as numbers for depression (which goes hand in hand with anxiety) as well as other mental health illnesses such as OCD and PTSD.

The lady who met us in her room about twenty minutes later was friendly but never patronising and was able to talk to me without seeming like an authority figure. Her style of therapy was simply talking, firstly finding out about what I was going through, and my inner feelings, emotions and bodily sensations, which worked together to complete a circuit. She wrote almost everything I said down, asked deeper questions into what made me feel anxious, the most negative thing that could happen, anything that helped me calm down and how I really felt before a panic attack or anxiety. A lot of the time I was asked to label each feeling on a scale of 1-10 and then work from there, talking mainly about my biggest fears and how I could stop them from happening. So, expect a talking session for the first appointment, and don’t mentally prepare yourself for tackling the problem just yet, as the first time you go is usually to talk through how you feel and allow the counsellor to work out what the underlying problem may be and if there are any simple ways to tackle it.

So, if you have a counselling session booked anytime and your story is a little similar to mine, prepare some notes highlighting what you would want to discuss. I noted down everything that made me anxious, how I felt, what prevented my anxiety, and how often I felt anxious. Most of the cases were at school, where I would be away from my family,  and, strangely, on holiday; being away from my house would often make me worried, and on the journey home I would be super nervous that something bad would have happened whilst we’d been away, but this was more of a childhood thing and as I get older, I now worry about things like travelling and talking in a foreign language. That said, having records of things that were a cause of unexplainable sadness in younger years (for me, I hated sleeping in the holidays and would cry for hours at the idea of sleeping by myself. When I was 7 or 8 I dumped a blow up bed in my parents room and slept there for the entire seven week summer holiday) because that can also lead to extra knowledge of your problem and how to solve it. If you take a questionnaire at the beginning of the session like I did, don’t be afraid to tick the box you feel properly applies to you as it will, of course, be a better indicator of how serious the issue is. Just be open to new ideas, new techniques and the help you are getting, and you will see good results.

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