Counselling: How Weird is That?

Making the Leap

My theory is that one of the things that keeps people from seeking counselling is making the mental leap to discuss deep, personal issues with a stranger.  When you think about it, it’s pretty odd.

We’re often used to friendships that grow over time, a gradual building up to being emotionally open. In some friendships deep issues might never even come up at all.

And, you think, “I’m supposed to open up to someone I don’t know?”

Maybe.  Some people are in the committed anti-counsellor camp and may even be facing an army of people urging them to go.

And some folks are willing to give counselling a try.

Pacing it Right

Counselling is a relationship, but not exactly what we’re accustomed to. Depending on comfort level, this can be a process of opening up over time, or at other times, particularly when a person is in crisis, disclosure can be rapid and feel very urgent. The important thing is that you move at a pace that is right for you.

Moving Ahead

But underneath it all, anyone who finds themselves in the counselling room, particularly for the first time, is facing an unfamiliar situation. Most of us don’t have a script for this.

Besides newness, there are other factors that can enhance the feeling of “weirdness”:

  • You do not feel a good rapport or “fit” with the counsellor
  • You generally do not open up to people in your personal life
  • You are uncomfortable with emotions: you might struggle with knowing what you feel and/or are challenged by expressing feelings in general
  • You feel shame or a sense of stigma about going for counselling
  • You don’t know how a counselling session is structured or what you’re “supposed” to do
  • You had a bad experience in counselling in the past
  • You struggle to ask for help 
  • You are in the counselling room because of an ultimatum or someone else’s expectation
  • You fundamentally don’t agree with counselling 
  • You are a counsellor yourself and find it difficult to be a client.

Reducing The Sense of ‘Strange’

The above are all very valid points that are sometimes enough to deter people permanently.

But…my biased counsellor self, who has also been through my own therapy, knows that there are certain things which can reduce the weirdness factor:

  • Talk to friends or family and ask if they’re willing to share their experiences in counselling. Ask for a referral.
  • Read about what to expect beforehand or ask the counsellor before or at the start of the session.  
  • Do your research to find a counsellor who is a good fit for you. Sources can include referrals from friends, family, a general practitioner or other health practitioners; searching on Google for counselling or psychotherapy in your city; online counselling directories; some mental health-related bookstores or women’s centres compile lists of therapists.
  • Ask for an opportunity to meet with the counsellor or talk to her or him on the phone before committing to a counselling appointment.
  • Think about what you would like help with, or what you would like to get out of counselling. Writing can help clarify thoughts.
  • Ask the counsellor questions, especially if you don’t understand certain things she or he is saying.
  • Understand that going to the first session is the biggest barrier.  Even if the counsellor you met with is not right for you, you now have some idea of what to expect.