Family Counselling can often be considered a bit taboo in Australian culture – it’s not something you regularly hear people talking about openly.
Like most things that aren’t talked about openly, this tends to breed misunderstanding and confusion around what actually happens in a family counselling session, and what to expect with things like:
How many session you’ll need to have
How regularly you will need to see your counsellor
What will you talk about/what will the focus be
What you should do if you don’t like something your counsellor does or says
What you should do if you don’t like the direction the family counselling is going in
These are really valid concerns and questions, and because of the private nature of going to see a counsellor we don’t easily find answers to these questions until we are in the session (or sometimes after multiple sessions).
This is one of our family counselling rooms at SKATTLE
To try to create greater transparency around this stuff, and to make it less daunting and nerve wracking, we are going to put some regular posts out on what actually happens in counselling.
Hope you find it helpful!
Part One – What can I expect to happen in a First Family Counselling Session?
A lot of people I have worked with over the years come into a first counselling session feeling really hesitant and nervous. They may not know what to expect or they may be worried about what the counselling experience is going to be like for them and their family.
Generally when I have asked what’s causing the nerves, people say something along the lines of “I feel like I have to start from the very beginning and tell the whole big story” or “I have been putting this off for such a long time I don’t even know where to start now!”.
Interview Your Counsellor!
Because seeing a counsellor is often considered such a taboo and private thing to do in our culture, people can put it off until it feels like a really big deal, or until it has gotten to a crisis point in their lives. Obviously this can make the first session in particular feel quite daunting.
The fact this is such a common experience makes it a really normal thing to be concerned about. It is something that any good counsellor will be aware of, and will be focused on doing everything they can to have you and your family feeling safe and comfortable.
Furthermore, the expectation that you will have to start from the beginning and go through every excruciating detail is absolutely not true!
The primary purpose of a first session is for you to get to know your counsellor, and to ‘interview’ them to work out if they are a good fit for you. You can ask whatever questions you think you might need to know, and to generally ‘feel them out’ to clarify if they are the right person for you to trust with your story.
The relationship between client and counsellor is a critical element in any therapy encounter being successful so make sure you put some emphasis on deciding whether you can work with each other.
You Are The Boss
The secondary purpose of the initial session is for your counsellor to help you clarify the hopes that you have for your family coming to counselling. These can be incredibly varied for each different person and are such an important part of the process to get clear on in this first session.
If you aren’t clear on what you want to focus on and what you want to get out of coming to counselling, then how will you know if it has been helpful at all?
Think about that for a second – it sounds simple but is actually something that often gets missed. If you aren’t clear on what you want to get out of coming to counselling then it will be very hard for you and your counsellor to ever get there.
As I said, hopes can be incredibly varied but some I often hear are…
Feeling more content and calm in our family
Having better relationships with between partner/parent/sibling/kids etc.
Feeling strong enough to make a big change in our lives
Feeling strong enough to make lots of small changes in our lives
Processing some major change that has happened in our lives
As you can see, these are all pretty broad – definitely the more clear and detailed you can get the better. This is something that your counsellor should spend a good amount of time on, helping to step you through a bunch of questions that will draw a nice clear picture of what the future could look like if the family counselling experience was helpful.
Of course as part of this process of getting to know each other and clarifying your hopes you will also get to share as much of the story or experience that brought you to family counselling as you want to. Some people just want to get this stuff off their chest straight up, and some want to remain a bit more guarded until they are feeling safe and have built more trust.
Either way is absolutely fine and completely up to each family we see. You might find it really helpful to share lots of historical details to the problem that brought you to counselling, but this is not necessarily always helpful, and is certainly not something you have to cover in the first session (or any session for that matter).
Remember, you are the boss – what you share and at what pace is up to you.
The most important thing in a first session is that you get a feel for your counsellor and for what family counselling is like, and get clear on what you want to get out of the experience. It’s really that simple.
All our counsellors are experts in doing a good first session and in assisting you to get clear on how counselling can help you. We have hand picked experienced and relatable counsellors who are only a few clicks away, so please have a look at our team if you feel ready to get started.
In the next post I will build on this process and talk more about what happens in family counselling in the second session and beyond.
Hope this post has helped to take the nerves and hesitation of a first counselling session away (even just a little bit). Please contact me if you want to share any ideas or ask a question.