Taking the first step

It takes a lot of courage to email or phone a complete stranger asking for help when you are feeling distressed. Knowing what the process is likely to entail can relieve some of that anxiety. Often, an individual seeking counselling will be feeling desperate when they decide to approach a therapist. I often see clients who have decided to come to therapy because things have gone wrong repeatedly, or because the help they have sought out in the past has not worked for them.

It can feel like an impossible task to actually find help - and indeed to know what kind of help to ask for. However, once that first step has been taken it can feel like a huge relief: finally you are being heard by someone. It is common to hide our struggles for fear of being judged. You may worry what people will think, what impact it may have on your work if colleagues or your boss know but there can also be a sense of not feeling entitled to help - that there are lots of people worse off and that you should just get on with it. Everyone’s health is important - both physical and mental. There is no problem which is too small. If it is a worry for you, then it is important.

It is quite common for a G.P. to refer a client or even suggest that they can find a therapist privately by looking on the BACP website. This is the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists and provides a directory of therapists across the UK. You can be sure that the therapists on this directory have adhered to training standards set out by the Association and are vetted before being accepted on the website. The counselling directory is another safe forum to find a register therapist: counselling-directory.org.uk

However, I am also discovering that many of he individuals that I see have been encouraged by friends to seek out a therapist. The first port of call for someone who is suffering is often going to be a friend or family member. Although they may not be able to provide the professional advice which is needed, they can be key in supporting the individual in finding support. Encouragement and knowing that their friends are there for them can make all the difference in someone actually taking the step to find professional help. Being there while they make the phone call or initial email and being around to talk about the first session if they want to can really help the individual to feel that they are doing the right thing.

Therapists vary hugely in the way they work and it is important to find someone that you think you can work with and build up a good professional relationship with. I am aware of how daunting the process can be and personally find that it helps to get back to the individual who has contacted me as soon as I can. It also seems to help to have a short telephone conversation with them as they may be feeling very nervous and it helps to work out whether I am someone who can help them. The next step is to have a first session to get a better idea whether I am the right person to help and then the counselling process starts from there. It is important in this first session to see if we would be comfortable working with each other and to decide whether therapy would be beneficial for you. This first session gives me an opportunity to find out what brings you to therapy at this time as well as learning more about what is going on for you in your life right now. If you decide that therapy with me might be useful to you, then we decide how best to explore your difficulties and think about what you are hoping for from the therapy. Taking the first step is daunting but it can be the beginning of long-term, positive changes in your life.

Sophia Armstrong