- Matt McCoy
6 Frequently Asked Questions About Counselling
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
1. Why do people go to counselling and how can it help?
There are many, many reasons that people choose to go to counselling, but here are some of the most common:
Depression, anxiety, anger, grief, and difficulty controlling emotions are some of the most commonly addressed issues in counselling. Your counsellor can help you gain an understanding of where these feelings come from and give you new coping strategies to deal with them. Having a consistent, impartial, and empathetic person to lean on for support can be invaluable when working through challenging emotions.
Many people seek out counselling when they are experiencing a crisis, for example: the death of a loved one, a traumatic event, or a breakup. During these times life can feel too overwhelming to manage alone and having a trained professional to help navigate your new reality can be especially helpful. Your counsellor will be able to validate your feelings and teach you about the effects of trauma and grief. Some counsellors have training in special techniques, such as EMDR, to help clients heal from a traumatic event.
People may come to counselling when struggling with compulsive, problematic behaviours, such as substance abuse, overeating, gambling, excessive Internet use or gaming, and sexual compulsions. Your counsellor will help you explore some of the core reasons you turn to these behaviours while also giving you practical tools you can use to overcome them. Regular counselling sessions can give you accountability to practice new behaviours and reach your goals.
Individuals and couples frequently seek the help of a counsellor to address conflict in the relationship and improve communication and intimacy. Your counsellor can serve as an impartial third party to your relationship and can give you new strategies for communication. Counselling can help you identify patterns in your relationships and can give you greater awareness of how you relate to others.
For some people, counselling is a tool that can be used for ongoing personal growth, whatever that means to them. One of the most important goals of counselling is to increase awareness of ourselves, our motives, and our behaviours. Ongoing personal development can lead to deeper happiness and a greater sense of mastery over one's life.
3. What happens in a counselling session?
Every counsellor is different, but usually the first session is called an "intake session" and is an opportunity for the counsellor to obtain your full history and get to know you better. Many counsellors have a loose structure for their sessions, such as starting with a check-in, a review of any homework, a discussion of current concerns, and setting goals for the following session. Some people find they want to get more direction from a counsellor while others would like to guide the conversation themselves. It is a good idea to express to your counsellor what you are looking for if you already know what works for you.
4. How do I know if my counsellor is right for me?
Studies have shown that the single most important factor in the counselling process is the relationship between the counsellor and the client, so it is very important to find the right fit. Trust your instincts. You should feel comfortable, connected, and validated. Usually you can determine this within the first meeting. Many counsellors offer a free consultation, which you can take as an opportunity to see if it feels like a good match. This can take some trial and error. Do not hesitate to ask questions about your counsellor, their experience, and how they work. Counsellors are used to this and welcome any questions you might have.
5. How long should I expect to be in counselling? Do I have to go forever?
Several factors can determine how long you should expect to be in counselling, including your reason for getting help and your counsellor's orientation. Usually you should expect to be attending regular counselling sessions for at least a few months. It is best, however, to speak to your counsellor about this. It can be helpful to create a goal, such as attending 10 sessions, and then reevaluating your progress to see if you should continue. There is a misconception that counsellors want to keep their clients forever! The ultimate goal of counselling is for the client's symptoms to improve enough that they feel confident to return to their life before counselling.
6. Can I return to my counsellor after I stop going?
Yes! Many people find it helpful to periodically check-in with a counsellor they have seen in the past. Of course, life brings different challenges at different times and it can be comforting to go back to see someone who already knows you. Your counsellor will be pleased to see you again and get caught up on your life.
7. Is my information confidential?
Yes. Licensed mental health professionals are bound by their professional bodies to maintain strict confidentiality and uphold high clinical standards. There are only a few scenarios in which a counsellor may break anonymity:
a) If the counsellor believes their client is a danger to themselves or others
b) If there is suspected child abuse, elder abuse, or adult dependent abuse
c) If they are mandated by a court of law to testify or provide records