The prospect of counselling or psychotherapy can be very nerve wracking and anxiety provoking, especially for those who have never experienced therapy before. Finding the right therapist who you feel comfortable with is extremely important in any long term work, so you should always think about doing a little research before you begin with any therapist.
It can be tempting to pick the therapist closest to you or one that fits your budget, but these may not necessarily be what you need. Allow yourself time to look at different therapists profile photos, read up on what they say about themselves, how they work, their speciality areas and have a read of any blog posts and reviews. It may sound strange, but even without meeting or speaking to a therapist, many people can get a sense of how comfortable they feel just by looking at their profile details.
Once you have found two or three therapists who you believe you would feel comfortable with, I always suggest giving them a call to arrange an initial session. Speaking over the phone rather than on email allows you to hear their voice, their tone and the words they choose, all of which will help you to gauge how you feel about working with them. A phone call starts that connection which is so important in any therapeutic relationship.
I always suggest arranging several initial sessions with several different therapists. All therapists, even those of the same modality, will work in slightly different ways and one of those ways may feel more comfortable for you than another. Think of it as buying a new car, you would always want to test drive a few before deciding which one felt the most comfortable for you.
So what can you expect in your initial session? Depending on their modality, different therapists may work in slightly different ways, but essentially the initial session is a time for the therapist to find out more about you and determine if they have the experience and the ability to help you. They focus not only on the issues which have brought you to therapy and the outcomes you would like from the treatment, but also on you history, family, relationships, career, etc. so that they can get a proper overview of who you are and where you are coming from in life.
The initial session is also another opportunity for you to assess how comfortable you feel with your therapist. There are so many factors which can affect that connection between you at both the conscious and unconscious level, but you will instinctively know when you feel at ease with a therapist.
If you find it extremely difficult to find a therapist you feel comfortable with, the issue may lay more within you and a resistance to the therapeutic process itself. If this happens, it is something which is worth bringing up early on at your next initial session to see if that helps you to feel differently about the situation.
Towards the end of the initial session, the therapist should briefly go through their work contract. This should cover aspects such as confidentiality, cancellation policies, session lengths, frequency, costs, timings and endings. They should give you a copy of these terms and conditions for your records.
If you feel that you would then like to go ahead with further sessions with this therapist, you will book in for regular weekly slots. Most approaches will go for one session per week on the same day and the same time with the session length set at 50 minutes. Some approaches will give you an hour session length and others (particularly psychoanalyses) will offer more than one session per week.
Your sessions will usually then continue with the same therapist until you feel that you have gained all you can from that experience. Sometimes this can be as short as 10 weeks, other times it can be many years.
Coming to therapy can feel daunting and scary, but that is a good thing because it means you are challenging those aspects of yourself which have kept you trapped in the past. Finding the right therapist is one of the most important factors in how successful your therapy will be.