Amy Eksteen

Mental Health Series Part 1

One of the reasons I started my blog, was because I feel like, as a society, we need more accessible platforms that openly talk about mental health. As a community we need to be contributing to destigmatising mental health topics, the counselling experience and seeing a counsellor/mental health practitioner in order to prioritise our overall health.

Over the next two weeks, I will be breaking down the counselling process from the client’s perspective and the counsellor’s perspective to provide some insight into the experience. I think that it is important to provide a space for this discussion since we usually choose to shy away from talking about mental health. For some reason, I feel as if it still makes us a little uncomfortable at times. I have had the privilege of being a part of the counselling experience, as a client and as a counsellor. I therefore thought that my blog would provide amazing opportunities to shed some light on this topic.

In the blog post today, we will be discussing the counselling process from the client’s perspective before, during and/or at the end as well as after the counselling experience.

Please keep in mind that a lot of the following information does come from my own thoughts and personal experiences as a client. Hopefully you will find the post insightful and you will feel more informed about the counselling experience from the perspective of the client!

Before counselling: You might find yourself in a place where you may be thinking/asking yourself “Do I need to see a counsellor?”

Four questions you can ask yourself to begin assessing if you may benefit from seeing a counsellor are:

  1. “Do I feel as if I’m coping like I usually do?”
  2. “Do I feel as if my current concerns are interfering with my usual state of functioning?”
  3. “Do I feel as if my well-being is currently being compromised?”
  4. “Am I needing assistance/guidance with questions that I might have regarding a certain dimension of my life?” (For example, personal, emotional, career, occupational, academic, health and/or financial concerns)

If you have answered ”No or Yes” to at least one of the questions above, I would recommend reaching out to a local counsellor that you would like to see.

If you come to the conclusion that you would like to reach out for help and begin the counselling process, it is important to be aware of the fact that it can be quite difficult to know where to begin. It can be tricky to figure out who to reach out to for help since there are different types of mental practitioners, all with different scopes of practice. For example, Registered Counsellors and/or Clinical or Counselling Psychologists, to name a few. (Stay tuned for a future blog post dedicated to the different types of mental health practitioners and their different scopes of practice). In the mean time, I would suggest reaching out to a counsellor in your area that is reputable and available. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the counsellor to see if they will be able to see you as a client or if it would be in the client’s best interest to refer the client to the appropriate mental health practitioner.

Two things you can do when starting to reach out/find a counsellor:

  1. Look up local counsellors in your area
  2. Ask for reputable recommendations

You might experience a lot of anxiety, stress or discomfort before your first appointment with your counsellor. You may be thinking to yourself, “Does this officially mean that I have a mental illness?” The answer is “No”. Seeking help and seeing a counsellor doesn’t always mean you are battling with a mental illness. Just like when people fall ill and go to see a doctor, the same is applied with mental health – sometimes the immunity of our mental state, emotions and feelings weaken too and that’s okay!People seek counselling for any minor or major life challenges that they might be experiencing. Counselling can also be about seeking support and gaining skills to better cope/understand your concerns and stressors. Sometimes counselling can be beneficial simply by processing through your concerns via conversation and open discussion with your counsellor in a secure space.

You may feel like you don’t know what to expect from counselling or you may fear that it might not help you before the process even begins. One of the main suggestions I can give my readers is to remain open-minded. Counsellors are there to listen, help and care for you, but most importantly, to prioritise your mental health. You can view the first appointment as as ‘introductory appintment’ if you wish. At a glance, during the first appointment, ideally, your counsellor should discuss your ‘contract’ that should highlight certain ethical information such as how fees will be handled, confidentiality, consent, your rights as a client and their role, responsibility and boundaries as a counsellor. Your counsellor might also explain the counselling process, their preferred approach to counselling and might ask you about your goals – what you’re hoping to work towards/deal with during your counselling sessions. Discussing your goals is helpful for the counsellor and the client – it helps bring focus, direction and purpose to the counselling sessions.

During and/or at the end of counselling: It is important to note, that during the counselling experience, you might not get along with your counsellor and that’s okay, don’t blame yourself as the client. You might feel as if you’re not getting along as well as you would have hoped to and that is a very normal experience for some. This can be due to a number of factors such as gender and age differences as well as how the counsellor might choose to work. You, as the client, have the right to feel comfortable in the counselling setting and throughout the process of counselling. You also have a right to ask for recommendations to other counsellors if you wish. It might take you a long time to feel comfortable with your counsellor – this is also a normal experience because like in any other relationship, it takes time to get to know, trust and establish boundaries with each other.

You might notice that your counsellor takes notes/is always writing stuff down during your counselling sessions. This can be intimidating for some and that is understandable. It is important to know that you are entitled to see the counsellors notes any time you wish. It is important, however, for your counsellor to keep track of the main points/information during your conversations/discussions. One of the counsellors roles is to pick up on links and/or patterns that might be contributing to your current concerns/needs – notes can therefore help counsellors to do that. It is also important for counsellors to document sessions for various ethical reasons.

You may start to feel uncomfortable, during the counselling process, especially when discussing sensitive topics and information with your counsellor. This is often one of the contributing causes for clients to ‘default’ during the counselling experience – to not finish their counselling process/’back out’ when they begin to feel as if they might not cope with the changes they start to notice. I think that it is helpful to keep in mind that opening up to somebody else as well as experiencing change, growth and healing isn’t always easy to deal with and it can be a uncomfortable process. This is often the reality of the counselling experience, some sessions will feel harder and cause discomfort, while other sessions may leave you feeling lighter and happier – every session does contribute to your progress. You may sometimes feel extremely emotional, drained and extra sensitive after your counselling sessions. This is because it can be emotionally taxing to tap into your feelings and emotions. If it is possible, I would suggest prioritsing time for self-care if you feel this way after your sessions.

You might be wary of the fact that one day/sooner than you’d hoped, the counselling process is going to end and so comes the end of seeing your counsellor or your ‘source of support’ as often as you are used to. Sometimes knowing that the counselling process won’t last forever can also prevent us, as clients, from being open, honest and vulnerable. It may feel easier to hide your feelings. If you experience these thoughts and feelings, I would suggest openly discussing them with your counsellor.

You as the client, can decide when you are ready to finish the counselling experience, whenever you feel healthier and stronger, that you are coping better and that your usual state of functioning/wellbeing is no longer being compromised. Sometimes the counsellor willl indicate that they think you are at a place where counselling is no longer needed – this may happen if the client tries to stay in counselling longer than what is necessary/what is considered ‘healthy’ for them.

After counselling: After the counselling process, you might experience anxiety/stress due to not seeing your counsellor, your source of support, as often as you are used to. You may even experience a sense of loss/feelings of missing your counsellor. This is normal. It is important to remind yourself of your personal resources and protective factors. One of the best things to do during this time is to seek/make the most of your social support.

Some client’s may feel that if they have been to counselling once, they can’t go back because it might signify their ‘weakness’ again. It is important to keep in mind that as a client, you are free to return to your counsellor/a new counsellor if you find yourself not coping with a new concern or even the old concern.

Tips to help with the counselling process:

  1. Try to be on time for your appointments
  2. Go home and write down anything you learn/that stood out to you from your sessions
  3. Do any homework your counsellor gives you/suggests
  4. Don’t go too long without seeing your counsellor – honour the availability of your appointments
  5. Commit to being open and honest with your counsellor at all times
  6. Share and talk about your story after your own experience, if you are comfortable enough to do so

It is so important for us to talk about mental health and various mental health topics in order to remove the fear/stigma surrounding mental health and the counselling experience. I hope that this blog post gave some insight into the counselling process from the perspective of the client. Next week we will be taking a look at the counselling process from the perspective of the counsellor.

Thank you for reading xx