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Expectations: How to get the most out of your counselling sessions

Hand squeezing juice of orange into glass

Ok so in my previous blogs, I wrote about the many benefits of counselling, with a disclaimer that “you get what you put in” (you can read that by clicking here). I also wrote about a blog about what a counsellor does (you can read that by clicking here) and explained that the driving force throughout the sessions, will always be you, the client.

This led me to the understanding that it may help to explore how to manage a person’s expectations of counselling; what things you may need to consider and what the healthier alternatives may look like. This, I feel, will allow you to get the most out of your counselling sessions. After all, you’re making an investment in yourself (in more ways than one), so you want to aim to squeeze the most reward out of it, right?

So, let’s look at what the common obstacles are and what the alternatives could look like.


  1. Expecting your counsellor to “Fix you”: Contrary to popular poetry, you are not broken. You are a human being. Bones can be broken but a human’s existence cannot. You may have had negative and unhealthy life experiences which have made you feel a certain way and that is absolutely valid. However, that does not mean that your life cannot change. Also, it’s not your counsellor’s role to fix you. Your counsellor will actively work to support you in exploring your concerns but answers and solutions will always be for you to offer, explore and choose.

Alternative: Be prepared to actively work on your own development. Think of alternative options, reflect on your thoughts, feelings & behaviours and bring those reflections to session. Initiate explorations and discussions within the session. Ultimately, be the leader of your own growth. Remember, there is no such thing as a silly statement, thought, feeling or question. In other words, nothing you say will ever be ridiculed or disregarded. 


  1. Using counselling as you would a journal or diary: It is absolutely crucial to have a great relationship with your counsellor and your counsellor should help facilitate this as best as they can which may include a check in around how your week was etc. However, your counsellor is not there as a substitute for journaling. (Although I do recommend that a client should definitely use journaling, whether written, audio or video as a form of offloading as it helps reduce overwhelm but also, over time, allows the client to pick up on patterns of how they relate to the world).

          Many a times, sharing every tiny detail and small talk within the session is used as a way to distract yourself and the counsellor                from the pressing concerns that have brought you to counselling in the first place. It also takes away from any deeper self-                        development work as the counsellor can only work with what you tell them and so can only facilitate based on what information            you share.

Alternative: Have a priority list prepared of what concerns you would like to bring to counselling and be prepared to pick one and explore that with your counsellor. Setting goals and aims allows your counsellor to facilitate the sessions according to your needs. Try journaling and then start to bring what comes up for you to the session to explore further.


  1. Hiding truths: Fear, shame and embarrassment are major influences of our lives. Sometimes they may stop you from telling the truth to your counsellor. Sometimes, you may even feel it is easier to hide the truth. Please don’t. This only takes away from the work that you would like to do, which is why you came for counselling, right? Again, going back to my earlier point; you do not need to share every tiny detail about your life but, being honest is necessary for your progress. However, I absolutely understand that it is extremely difficult to be open and honest about things that may have had a major overwhelming impact on your life.

Alternative: If you are struggling with discussing things openly, consider just saying that to your counsellor. Telling them that you are struggling to share certain information, is still honesty and it allows the counsellor to support you through the exploration of that struggle (IF you wish to do so) or facilitate other explorations, (such as exploring the feelings about the feelings. Remember those?), until you feel confident enough to overcome your struggle. Remember, you are the driver of these sessions and so any explorations are done so according to your wishes.


  1. Only sharing factual information: Your feelings play a valuable role in influencing your thoughts and behaviours. Sharing only factual information is really only sharing half of the story. As previously mentioned, no one has experienced things in exactly the same way and time as you have experienced them. This includes feelings. Your counsellor needs to see the full picture in order to facilitate healthy exploration and this cannot be done with only half of the information.

Alternative: As before, if you are struggling with sharing your feelings then please do say that to your counsellor who can then support you further.


  1. Seeing counselling as just a 50-minute session: The work you do in a 50-minute session once a week is great however it is a very small part of your time compared to all of the other hours that you spend outside of your sessions. The aim of counselling is to get you to a point where you feel confident enough to support yourself and no longer need counselling. If you only do the work in the session and not outside of it, this will slow down your process.

Alternative: Make counselling a priority in your life. Be respectful of your counsellor’s time. Make sure to attend your sessions and then take what you learn from your session into the “outside world”. That doesn’t mean you have to implement actions and behaviours if you don’t feel ready to. Reflecting on your session, your thoughts and feelings are a big part of the work. Journal (outside of the sessions) and bring your reflections to the session to explore further. Doing the “homework” that you agree with the counsellor is just as valuable.


  1. Thinking a session here or there will be enough. For some, who pick up on their issues quite quickly and recognise that the issue itself isn’t very complex; one to 6 sessions may be all they need. Great! However, if we’re looking at deep rooted issues, then one session or one session every few months is really not going to be beneficial for you. These issues influenced you and created a specific and complex way of feeling, thinking and behaving over a period of time and situations. These cannot be resolved or changed without consistent work over a span of time. If you’re not going to be consistent with your sessions, (and the work you need to do outside of the sessions) then the sessions that you do attend, will still be beneficial, but not to the extent that consistent sessions would.

Alternative: Be aware and realistic of what has brought you to counselling and how long you have been grappling with this issue. That usually allows you to recognise how much more time it will take to work through that situation. Then commit to having consistent sessions. Clients have full autonomy over how often and how many sessions they choose to book, however, if a counsellor recognises that the issues being brought to counselling are long term work then they will bring this to the attention of the client (otherwise they are not working ethically) and explore this further. Explore what stops you from committing to regular, consistent sessions. Ultimately it may be that you may need to consider a different counsellor (as it might be that this counsellor isn’t a good fit for you which is why you struggle to have consistent sessions) or delay counselling until you feel you are ready to commit to it.


  1. Be resistant to change: Counselling facilitates change but if you keep digging your heels in at every turn OR want quick changes, then there is only so much a counsellor can facilitate. Change takes time and sometimes things can feel worse before they start to feel better. That’s the truth of counselling.

         Remember, people have a way of trying to distract themselves from their real issues but realise that even with the distractions,               they are still unhappy. The first step is usually to stop distracting yourself and not push all those unhappy feelings aside. This is                 going to be difficult and painful and for a period of time, make you feel more unhappy. However, wanting to immediately feel                   better or resisting the process because you feel more upset will only slow down your progress.

Alternative: Recognise & accept that change is slow and can be quite painful at times. Keep an open mind and be patient with yourself and the process. Recognise and work on accepting that you probably are going to feel worse before you feel better. We, as counsellors, get that. It’s why we work so hard to support you within the sessions and help you build your emotional resilience so that you are able to face and sit with such experiences. Explore how you feel about the thought of this process of change and maybe set a goal to explore & work on those feelings too, whilst also working on what brought you to counselling.


  1. Rush to choose a counsellor: Unfortunately, the counselling field is not regulated and although there are organisations such as the BACP (British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy), NCS (National Counselling Society) & many more that come under the banner of PSA (Professional Standards Authority); in reality these organisations are membership organisations and not regulatory or governing bodies and therefore becoming a member is not a legal requirement. This means that any person could claim to be a counsellor without having the correct qualifications or training. This could lead to people without the appropriate training or qualifications, portraying themselves as counsellors and some of them are really good at marketing themselves. Unfortunately, once you start working with them, you can end up in a worse off state of mind.


Alternative: Choose a counsellor after careful consideration & review regularly.  Membership organisations provide a degree of safety around counselling standards as they require their member counsellors to have certain qualifications/training as a minimum standard, as well as a requirement for ongoing professional development (which members are required to keep a log of).

It also gives you the safety of a complaints procedure as you can contact the membership body to make an official complaint about their counsellor members.


  1. Staying with a counsellor just for the sake of it and not having reviews: If you’ve chosen a counsellor but don’t find that they are the best fit or you find yourself unable to speak to them openly, then staying with them (without addressing the issue) will cause you more harm in the long term, as all it will do is reinforce your unhealthy communication concerns.

Alternative: If you feel your counsellor’s way of working isn’t serving you, tell them.  Have a regular review with your counsellor. Any good counsellor will not just welcome reviews but will more than likely initiate them themselves. Reviews are for you to address any concerns you have about the sessions or the counsellor and also to see what is or isn’t working for you, so that the counselling work can be tailored further to your needs. If you feel things aren’t working for you, say so. If you feel there is a discomfort between you, say so. It allows open and honest conversation and sometimes this is all that is needed to get things onto the right track.

I would also say that if you feel any such thing, don’t wait for a review. Speak about it in your very next session and see how you feel after that. If things cannot be resolved then maybe this counsellor is not for you, (which can happen). In that case, choose a different counsellor but please don’t give up on the counselling process itself. Please don’t feel disheartened as it is quite common for people to start and leave multiple counsellors before finding one that is a great fit for them and that is when real growth occurs

There are also certain questions you can ask a counsellor to answer during your consultation that will help you make a more informed decision about whether a counsellor is the right fit for you or not, but that’s for another blog.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to drop a comment below! 

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