This article was written by a young person who has been through counselling. Keep in mind that we are experts in our own experiences, and what works for one person might not work for another.
Note: some people use the word “counselling,” “psychotherapy,” and “therapy” interchangeably.
I started going to counselling when I was in grade 12. To be honest, I didn’t have the best first experience. I found my counsellor to be too cheerful, too dismissive of my problems, and too critical of the way I lived my life. At that time, I swore I’d never give counselling another try.
In the years that followed, I did end up giving counselling another try. Many tries, actually. I met counsellors from various educational backgrounds, with different personality traits, and each of them had their areas of expertise. I clicked with some of them more than others, and after many years of navigating the mental health system, I finally found a counsellor that I liked, that made me feel safe, and that ultimately changed my life.
Throughout this process, I learned so many things, and I’m here to share my insights with you.
Here’s everything I want you to know about what it’s like to try counselling.
Counselling can be a scary (yet rewarding) process!
I’m not going to lie. Trying counselling for the first time can bring up anxiety for many of us. And each time you meet with a new counsellor, it’s normal to feel somewhat nervous. After all, not only are you meeting with a stranger for the first time, but you might also be feeling vulnerable, struggling with your mental health, substance use, or even struggling with day to day problems that are part of being human. So, be kind to your mind, acknowledge that it’s scary, and give yourself a chance. You are worth it!
So, be kind to your mind, acknowledge that it’s scary, and give yourself a chance. You are worth it!
Tip: when you meet a counsellor for the first time, it’s OK to let them know how you feel about the process. If you don’t know what to say or are uncomfortable with silence, try saying, “This is my first-time trying counselling. I’m nervous about what to expect.” A good counsellor will be able to address your concerns and interact with you in a way that lessens your stress.
Tip: if you’re confused about why you’re seeking counselling in the first place, try brainstorming a list of your concerns, and share the list with your counsellor.
Remember: there is no pressure to disclose your biggest secrets right away. Often, the first meeting is more like a meet-and-greet, a “let’s get to know each other” kind of deal. If you engage in future sessions with your counsellor, you get to be the driver of the bus- counsellors encourage you to be in control of what you share, and how much you want to share throughout the counselling process.
Don’t let one bad experience discourage you.
This is a tough one. There’s no other way around it. Sometimes, you may reach out for help and are left feeling invalidated. This can leave you feeling disheartened, disappointed, and incredibly discouraged. I’m here to tell you that sometimes, having a bad experience may be a part of the process. If you meet a counsellor for the first time and do not have the best experience, it could be due to many reasons, and you are not to blame (and neither is the counsellor). For example, you and your counsellor might not be a good “fit.” Just like we don’t get along with everyone in our lives, we might not get along with the first counsellor we meet. That doesn’t mean that we will never find a counsellor we feel comfortable with. It just means that finding a counsellor can sometimes be a bit of a process.
Tip: if you don’t like the first counsellor you meet, it is OK and appropriate to ask for a referral. Try saying something like, “Thank you for meeting with me. I don’t think we’re the right fit, and I think I’d like to try another counsellor.” Every good counsellor out there wants the best for you, so they will be more than happy to refer you.
Tip: if you have a negative experience accessing help within the mental health system, it’s OK to allow yourself to feel your feelings, whether that is anger, sadness or fear. It might help to confide in someone you trust, who can hopefully hold space for you during this time.
Remember: reaching out for help is scary. Just the fact that you tried says a lot about who you are and is a big accomplishment!
Manage your expectations.
When I first started going to counselling, I believed that seeing a counsellor would mean that all my problems would suddenly disappear. I thought that a counsellor’s job was to “fix” my life and that I’d breeze through the entire process without having to feel any sort of discomfort. I was wrong. A counsellor cannot, unfortunately, make you feel better instantly, or solve your problems, or improve your relationships. Managing your expectations can therefore help you to avoid feelings of disappointment.
Tip: be curious and open about the process of counselling, instead of expecting to immediately feel better.
Tip: ask yourself, “How would I like my life to be different?” Setting goals and reaching them can be an important part of the counselling experience.
Remember: counselling is a process between two individuals, and a counsellor’s goal is to help you reach your goals!
Counselling might lead to experiencing big, intense, and painful emotions.
Sometimes, people think that they will feel great after their counselling sessions, and that the whole process will feel like relief, joy, and triumph. In my experience, those feelings do come out at some point. At the same time, it’s important to remember that counselling can prompt big emotions like anger, sadness, fear, and shame. This does not mean that counselling makes everything “worse.” Big emotions often communicate important information to us. As you learn new coping skills, face uncomfortable truths, or challenge your beliefs, it’s normal to feel joy, sadness, and everything in between.
Tip: let your counsellor know how you feel. If you feel like you can’t manage big painful feelings at this time, it’s OK to let your counsellor know that. They will be able to slow down the session so that you feel safe and are able to process at your own pace.
Tip: make time for self-care afterwards. For example, after my weekly counselling session, I often dedicate a fair amount of time to self-soothing, and self-care. Therapy can leave you feeling exhausted, so it’s important to take care of yourself afterwards. Drink a hot chocolate, cuddle with a stuffed animal, or call a good friend.
Remember: sometimes, big emotions are an indication that counselling is working, and that you are making progress!
A good counsellor will challenge you, while being kind and supportive.
I have found that the best counsellors are often the ones who challenge you, yet are supportive at the same time. I’ve had counsellors in the past who listened well, but we talked week after week without any change occurring. Although my counsellors were able to hold space for me, I wasn’t challenged enough to make significant changes in my life. Now, I see a counsellor who challenges me, gives me homework, pushes me to try new behaviors, and cares about me deeply.
Tip: check-in with your counsellor if you feel like counselling isn’t working, or if you’re not reaching your goals. Your counsellor will be able to adjust their approach to fit your needs. And if they don’t feel capable of doing so, they can refer you to another counsellor who might be a better fit for you.
Tip: give your counsellor feedback (trust me, they welcome it!). For example, some days you might need someone to listen to you, and other times you will want your counsellor to be more assertive and challenging. People need different things from counselling at different times, so it’s OK to take charge and ask directly for what you need.
Remember: you know yourself best, and it’s a good idea to communicate your needs to your counsellor.
I hope that if you haven’t tried counselling yet, you will consider giving it a try — or maybe two or three. If counselling feels too scary for you right now, you can also start by talking with a youth peer supporter, who has their own lived experience with mental health concerns. They can reassure you and remind you that you are not alone.
If you’re seeing a counsellor but don’t feel good about seeing them, be brave, speak up, and try to find someone else. Again, it’s all about finding the right “fit”! Our counsellors at Foundry are receptive to feedback and want to help you succeed in any way they possibly can. If you’re already seeing a counsellor that you enjoy working with, keep going! In my opinion, showing up for counselling is incredibly brave.
Wherever you are in your journey, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, feeling your emotions, and working hard towards your wellness is perhaps the hardest thing you will ever do, but it will be worth it all the way.
If you would like to try out counselling, I encourage you to download the Foundry BC App and book an appointment with one of our virtual counsellors. Foundry Virtual BC also offers drop in counselling Tuesday-Thursday, from 2:00-6:00 PM if you want to try “in the moment” support.
Find out more about Foundry.