The Initial Session

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being” – Albert Schweitzer

Counsellors are a diverse lot. Our approaches will be broadly the same, but don’t worry if they differ slightly. Firstly, counselling should be a consensual activity. In other words you should ‘want’ to see somebody about issues that are concerning you and even if you find that it is not for you, the decision is yours and yours alone.

A lot of clients wondering what their first counselling session will be like maybe asking themselves How will I feel? What is the counsellors role? What if I don’t like it? What will I be committing to?

The first principle of an initial session is to confront the obvious:

  • to see how you feel about being here
  • to realise this is a time for the counsellor and client to get to know each other
  • to share what brings you to counselling
  • to determine the appropriateness of this form of counselling 
  • for you to assess whether I am a person you feel you can trust

The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) the organisation which oversees good practice  for counsellors in the United Kingdom state:

Counselling and psychotherapy are always undertaken at the request of the client and no-one can properly be ’sent’ for counselling or psychotherapy. There are many situations these days where people with influence in our lives (perhaps a relative, manager at work, or teacher) will suggest talking therapies as a solution to a problem. This should be offered without any pressure or strings attached. BACP 2013

After an initial contact by e-mail or phone we will arrange an appointment as soon as we can. The first session is an opportunity for us to meet and get to know each other. It will be a space for you to ask any questions you may have about me or the counselling process and to talk about what brings you to counselling. At the end of this session we should have a good idea as to whether we want to work together and continue with further sessions, although you may want to think it over for a few days.

Once the decision is made to continue (normally within the first session but sometimes this can be at the beginning of a second session), we will establish a ‘contract’ that we both feel comfortable with and that sets out clearly what I am offering. This is so you, the client, can make an informed decision. It will make clear the confidential nature of the sessions, the cancellation policy and establish our commitment to working together in regular weekly sessions. For example we may initially contract to meet for 8 weeks, to see how that works out. This may be a sufficient number of sessions or you may then decide to continue open-endedly.

A contract will usually cover the following areas:

•Time and day/s of session/s.

•Duration of the session (usually 50 minutes)

•How many sessions are available

•What approach I will use

•Fee (if a paid service)

•How long your notes will be kept for, who can see them, and how they will be disposed of.

•Complaints procedure


As a client you would expect a counsellor to offer confidentiality, however there are some exceptions to confidentiality which sometimes can sound quite logical and other times, a bit bizarre to anyone outside the world of counselling.

Exceptions are disclosures such as:

Harm to self, harm to others, (this is usually the policy of organisations who employ counsellors).

Money laundering, Acts of terrorism, Drug Trafficking’ Child protection issues’ which the counsellor has a legal obligation to disclose.**

I will also ask you how you would like me to respond if, for instance, we bumped into each other in the street or were with family or friends. For example, it might be that you want to ignore me so that you don’t have to answer awkward questions such as ‘ who was that?’ (NB: As I provide psychotherapy services to people in the pansexual, fetish and gay BDSM/Kink communities, there are unique issues and situations that can raise further questions about professional boundaries. If this concerns you, you can read more about this here).

Counselling is a professional activity and as such it is important that at the beginning both parties are clear about what is on offer. For clients who decide to stay, because they want to, once the contract has been agreed, this signals the beginning of what I will call the ‘therapeutic relationship’.

Below are some common questions that clients often ask before having their first session of counselling, 

How will I feel?

I guess only you will know. Some clients report relief, others anxiety and nervousness and some, anger. It all goes to prove there is no ‘right way to feel ‘ in your first (or any other counselling session). Just be ‘you’ and we’ll figure out the rest together!

What is the counsellor’s role? 

To offer an emotionally warm, safe and confidential environment for you to discuss your issues or difficulties, so that hopefully you can understand, resolve or come to terms with them. This is sometimes known as a therapeutic relationship. Bottom line, it’s about you and your needs.

What if I don’t like it?

Sometimes, you just won’t feel a connection with your Counsellor. Sometimes, once counselling starts, it gets harder before it gets easier. Consider what you don’t like and how it feels. Try to talk this through with your counsellor because, like all human relationships, some work, some don’t. If you feel that you are not connecting with your counsellor and you have been able to express that and talked it through with them, and it still feels the same, then find another counsellor.

What is the commitment?

This depends on you, the counsellor and the problem. While deep-rooted problems will need maybe a weekly session for many months, short term counselling for a specific problem may only take a few weekly sessions. A session is usually 50 minutes. In a few cases, one session may be enough. Payment, and how many sessions you might need, will be agreed during the first session. Most practitioners believe that some payment, however small, reflects the client’s commitment to the process. It is all too easy to miss sessions if the going gets tough. Frequently clients find the counselling process quite painful, before the benefits are really felt, so it’s useful to bring this up with your Counsellor and work with what you’re finding tough. If we are making a long-term commitment, we will also agree any payments for missed or cancelled appointments and holiday arrangements. Part of setting the contract will be to agree the number of sessions before an assessment and review of progress is made.

** Refers to UK legislation, other countries will vary

(Info adapted from:

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