It can be daunting to book and attend your first session with a Counsellor. It can feel particularly anxious when meeting a Relationship Therapist as there often seems to be an air of mystery about this specialist area of psychotherapy. Read below to find out a little bit more about what to expect in your Initial Assessment session.
- A safe, confidential environment. One of the most important aspects of counselling is the duty of confidentiality. Your counsellor should take time at the beginning to explain how the session is confidential, and also to explain any exceptions to confidentiality, for instance disclosures of a risk of harm to you or others. The room should echo this by providing a quiet, safe location, where you cannot be observed or heard by others. If your counsellor is based on a busy road or office block, then of course you may hear ambient noise from outside, but it is vital that you feel reassured that your session won’t be overheard. This is an important responsibility you have if you are attending sessions online, so please ensure you have privacy to speak freely. Please speak to your Therapist if this is a worry for you.
- Checking your names, and other important details. Your Counsellor will likely have your names already but may want to check the pronounciation of your name or any nickname that you prefer to use, for instance ‘Steve’ or ‘Nicki’, rather than Steven or Nicola. They may also want to check that they have the correct telephone numbers and contact details for you both, and that they have your GP details too.
- What you feel the main issues are. Your counsellor will be interested in what you feel the key difficulties are, and how these may be the same or different to how your partner feels. Your counsellor will take time to listen to you tell your story and give you space to say what is most on your mind. It can be hard to know where to start however, so Relationship Counsellors are usually skilled in supporting clients this way, and gently exploring what has brought you to seek counselling.
- Your family set up and support system. It can feel strange to be asked questions about your children or your work, but discovering the wider system in which a relationship exists is essential to understanding the pressures and dynamics that may be present. For instance, it can be useful to understand if a new baby has been born recently, or a significant loss of a loved one or a job opportunity. These are like parts of a bigger jigsaw puzzle, which can help us piece together the environment of your relationship.
- Your goals and hopes for therapy. Your counsellor will usually be interested in what you expect from the sessions. Do you hope to have the perfect marriage again? Do you want your therapist to be able to tell you what to do about your unfaithful partner? Your counsellor will want to explore what your expectations are, and also to challenge some of the common misconceptions around Relationship Therapy, such as the therapy being able to ‘fix’ everything. These hopes are understandable when your relationship feels broken, and we look to a counsellor to make it all better again. However it is important for the counsellor to help you think about what may be realistic, and not to promise the impossible.
6. What Next? By the end of the Initial Assessment, the aim is that you and the counsellor have agreed what the next steps should be. This may be arranging further counselling sessions together, or it may be that you need more time to evaluate whether Relationship Therapy is right for you. It may also be that your Counsellor feels a different sort of psychological support would be more appropriate in the first instance, for example Bereavement Counselling or CBT for Depression. Whatever the outcome, your first Assessment Session should have been able to answer some of your questions and concerns, and leave you with increased clarity about the path ahead of you and your partner.