Counselling and Psychotherapy. What’s it all about?

My first blog post is about what to expect if you’re thinking about accessing counselling and psychotherapy, because most clients that I see, when they book their first session, really have little to no idea what they are letting themselves in for.

Unless you know someone who has been to therapy, or who is a therapist themselves, you may not know what it is all about. Our main source of information often comes from the TV, or films and many examples we see on TV/film are about poor therapy, breaching of both the therapist’s and the client’s boundaries. They show situations where everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. The good news is that this is hype, designed to shock, garner a laugh, draw in the audience. It is not reality.


There has gradually been a growing awareness in the British population about the benefits of Counselling and Psychotherapy over the last decade. But there is still some stigma among the general population, not helped by the media and TV/film industry, that perpetuates the model of it being quackery (fake medical practice). Certainly when I booked my first session with a psychotherapist, following a very difficult work related event, my main fear was other people finding out and thinking me to be unhinged- because in my mind, at the time, only people with serious mental illnesses needed therapy, and ‘quackery’ was the main belief in my mind about the process.

Fortunately, awareness of the benefit of good mental health and the openness of people who have attended their own therapy now means that more people are seeking support from counselling and finding the benefit out for themselves. This in turn is helping to remove the perceived stigma around seeking support with our mental health and emotional well-being. And for me personally it has been a positive life changing process.

But it still feels like there’s a veil of secrecy around counselling when I so often hear questions, like those below, repeated by people considering counselling.

  • do I really need help from someone else?
  • what happens in a session?
  • how to I find a therapist?
  • how will I know I’ve found the right therapist for me?
  • will I have to talk about everything?
  • can I talk about anything?
  • how much will it cost?

Do I Really Need Help From Someone Else?

Well, that depends. Have you spoken to friends and family without finding the help you need or want? Has someone, your GP maybe, or family and friends suggested you seek support from a counsellor? Or have you already decided for yourself that you’d like some help from someone not connected to the problem or challenges that you are living with?

Because the not straight forward answer is that help from a Counsellor or Psychotherapist  may benefit you, but many people also ‘get by’ without seeking outside help. So the next question then I guess is “do I want to just ‘get by’?” If the answer is “No,” then help from someone outside the situation may well be what you need.

What Happens in a session?

Again there is not really a straight forward answer. Much will depend on the type of counselling sought and whether or not it is time limited or more open ended, whether it takes place in a funded agency or in Private Practice. But generally, in a first session, you can expect to meet your Counsellor, chat through the limits of confidentiality, talk through Agency or Private Practice contracts. You will probably also give your Counsellor a short overview of the problem you want help with.  Some counsellors will talk through the contracting, confidentiality and brief overview with you on the phone before a more formal first session, others will do this as part of the counselling process face to face with you.

The purpose of the first session is to meet with each other, get a feel for whether or not you can work together. Also for the counsellor to know if they can work with you or if you might benefit from a different type, or, more specialised counselling.  Its a two way process, both you as client and the counsellor at this point are free to say yes to progressing, but equally free to say no.

How Do I Find A Therapist?

Many people now use Google (or another search engine) to find a private counsellor by typing in something like ‘counsellor near me’ (or the name of their town) and let Google do the work.  In the UK you will then often see paid Ads for a few private counsellors at the top of the search, followed by Google My Business Ads in a little box which lists other local counsellors.  And below that you will find links to counsellors web pages and maybe to some counselling directories.  The directories contain lists of local counsellors with short profiles and links to their websites or with direct contact details. Most counsellors use several methods of being found by clients and may use paid or free Ads, directories and website.

The process is the same if you are looking for a free or low cost service, just change the wording of your search to reflect that. And equally if you are looking for a specific kind of counsellor or agency, type that into the google search.

Other ways to find a therapist include word of mouth, business cards, leaflets and posters on notice boards in shops and other businesses.

How will I know I’ve found the right therapist?

The first myth to bust here is the myth that you need to be experiencing significant mental health problems in order to work with a counsellor or psychotherapist. Yes many people come to counselling when they are in crisis but many others come because they have a problem they’re struggling to resolve, lack self-confidence holding them back in their lives, a decision to make or some confusion in their life that would benefit from a different perspective. And coming to therapy before you hit crisis is absolutely OK, therapy can help you where-ever you currently find yourself in life.

Each Therapy experience is Unique
Just as there is no such thing as a typical client, therapy itself is also not a one size fits all process.
While some NHS and charity counselling is provided according to one model and within a limited time frame, for example CBT is a common model used, this is not so across the board, and particularly in private practice it is possible to provide a far more individually tailored experience of counselling and psychotherapy according to the needs and wishes of the client and the counselling/psychotherapy models used by the therapist..

If you are unfamiliar with the range of different counselling and psychotherapy models out there, it is worth researching the modality that the therapist you’d like to see is trained/training in, to see how that model sits with you. For example, when I chose my own therapist, after I had researched several models of therapy, I was particularly drawn to the model of Transactional Analysis that she was training in and less drawn to others. But you may be drawn to a Person Centred Approach, or CBT, or EMDR. There are many types of counselling and psychotherapy so there should be something to fit with your own preferences out there.

Therapy can help you to make changes you want to make.

So how does a therapist help you make changes to benefit you? Not by giving advice or telling you what to do! Counselling and Psychotherapy are talking therapies and they are called this because primarily the work is done through talking, but it’s about more than simply talking. It’s about being heard, knowing that you can share what you need to share without judgement. It’s also about having some of your thinking challenged to help you gain insight into your own ways of thinking and behaving, both with others and with yourself. And it’s about working with your therapist to find ways to change the things you want to change in order to improve the quality of your life.

Therapy can also help you to gain new skills in relating to others, help you to learn to break a habit that been bugging you, finding solution that will work for you, trying new ways of doing things and working out what doesn’t work for you- because we’re all different. It might be as simple as you wanting to find time to do a favourite hobby but always finding yourself without enough hours in the day. Your therapist might listen to you describe a typical day and point out where those hours are going, that you stay after work for an hour every day, then hit rush hour traffic and come home to sort out the problems of everyone else in the family. A simple change in routine could help, or learning how to set and stick to boundaries with other people. Sometimes we cannot see the woods for the trees in our own lives and a therapist can help you to stand back and see things from a different perspective.

I’ve not quite figured out how to allow comments yet, but can be contacted via the Contact Form below if you’d like to leave a comment or get in contact with me.

Please add phone Number:

About Sue Wong