How to Get the Most Out of a Counselling Consultation

Counselling consultations. This is a popular beginning for many a counselling journey and making use of them can be a wise choice indeed.

What Are They?

Many counselling and private mental health professionals offer a free or reduced-cost initial counselling consultation, ranging from 15 minutes to a standard full session length (typically 50 minutes). Such consultations are offered by phone or in-person.  Some therapists offer one or the other, others offer a choice between the two.

Why a Consultation?

When you retain the services of a therapist, you’re actually their employer, so to speak.  Most people would not hire someone without talking with them first. Sometimes this step is skipped if a close friend or family member has worked with the therapist and had an excellent experience or if the potential counsellee discerns from other sources (online, health professionals, therapist’s area(s) of focus etc.) that the counsellor would be a good fit for them.

Purpose

People approach counselling consultations for a range of reasons.  Potential clients’ reasons could include:

  • Meeting the therapist face to face to discern comfort level
  • Asking the therapist questions directly to see if the therapist’s responses match what the potential client is looking for
  • Viewing the counsellor’s office to ascertain whether this is a comfortable environment or even commuting there to see if it feels do-able

Questions, Questions

As in purpose, questions for the therapist vary, depending on the potential client’s needs and expectations.  Possible questions may include:

  • How long have you been practicing counselling?
  • Where have you worked?
  • What are your qualifications? Are you affiliated with a professional college or association?
  • Why did you choose counselling as a career?
  • What is your experience with __________?
  • What counselling methods or therapies do you use for ___________?
  • How will we know that I’m making progress?
  • What are your views on _________?
  • What are your fees? How does billing work?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • What do you do to take care of yourself so you can do the work you do?
  • Do you have experience with meditation (if this is important to you)?
  • What kinds of professional development opportunities are you involved in?
  • How often should I come in? How long should I come for counselling?
  • What types of sessions do you offer?
  • Do you work solely with individuals or do you do couples and family counselling too?
  • What is your availability in-between sessions?
  • What is confidentiality and how does it work?

Tips

  • Come prepared with questions.  I can’t speak for other therapists but I am not a salesperson and will never attempt to convince you to hire me. In other words, the time is for you to talk and ask questions – not for me to engage in a sales pitch!
  • Understand the scope. Unless you are being offered a free first session, a consultation is not the same thing as a counselling appointment.  For example,a1 15-minute consultation is insufficient time to address your concerns in a meaningful way and will most likely leave you feeling dissatisfied. Also, if you’ve thought of questions in advance, you will likely target the areas you want to, particularly if the consultation time is limited.
  • Check in with your internal reactions: am I feeling comfortable with and welcomed by the therapist? Do I feel emotionally safe in the office space? Am I feeling heard? Are my questions being addressed to my satisfaction?
  • Arrive on time. Being late will shave off valuable time and will make the consultation feel rushed.
  • Understand that a consultation is a no-obligation appointment.  You are not committed to a course of counselling by attending it.
  • Cancel your consultation if you’ve changed your mind – the therapist will be there waiting for you if you don’t.
  • Trust your guts.  It is your decision whether you wish to work with the therapist or not, even if you can’t identify a specific reason why you don’t want to go ahead. Counselling is an investment of time, money and the effort it takes to open up emotionally so that you can get the help you need.  Don’t short change yourself.