Everyone’s experience of counselling is different, but I want to tell you about mine, and what I wish I knew before I started seeing a counsellor.
The time between being told by my doctor that I likely have anxiety and should talk to someone and actually going to see a counsellor was very rushed, so I didn’t have much time to think about it… probably for the best. This is not always the case unfortunately. Anyway, the only thing I knew, or thought I knew, about what to expect came from every American TV show and movie ever. You, the “patient”, walk into a cold, empty room and sit on a couch at one side of the room, facing the therapist who is holding a notebook and a table sits between you. They will coldly ask you how you feel and jot down notes on how you respond, and once you’ve finished, that’s it until next week.
Well it turns out I didn’t have a clue, and neither does Hollywood, apparently. I was lucky that I clicked with the first counsellor that I met, and she was well experienced in helping others with similar problems to me, but I know some people who have been to 4 or 5 before they find the right therapist. That first session, from the moment I walked in the door, was much more comfortable than I had ever expected it to be – I’m not saying that I was glad to be there or anything, but the whole experience just wasn’t as intimidating as I’d expected. The office was small, warm and comfortable, and smelled like lavender, and the counsellor herself was really friendly.
But to me, the most important thing was that she didn’t just ask “how do you feel” or “why do you feel this way”, because the problem was I didn’t know – that’s why I was at counselling, wasn’t it?
Instead, she’d listen to what I did know, help me to understand why, lead me in trying to figure out the mess that was left in my head, identify my triggers and teach me mental tools to overcome them. The things I learned about myself and the way I think, as well as the ways to control my anxiety, have stuck with me and helped me through many situations I didn’t think I could manage, long after I last went to a counselling session.
One more thing that I wish someone had told me – counselling and dealing with mental health issues is a process.
Sometimes a long one. That first day when I walked into the office, I almost expected that after 3 or 4 sessions, everything would be back to normal. Well, it actually took just over 2 years, and sometimes it wasn’t easy… I started going weekly, then once a fortnight, and then once a month, and all the time in between I was using the mechanisms and tools she taught me to deal with my anxiety. And things don’t necessarily go back to normal. I’m not the same person I was before my anxiety and counselling – I’m more confident, I can identify when my anxiety is rising and know how to deal with it or how to ask for help, I’ve grown into myself and won’t avoid situations that I once did.
Things are a lot better now, and I hope that this has given you an insight into something that society doesn’t talk about enough. And to anyone who is struggling, even if you don’t understand why, I would urge you to take the leap and reach out – whether it’s to a friend, family member, helpline or counsellor, people can help and it will make everything a whole lot easier. Xx