Sometimes clients send me a message just before they are due to start counselling saying that they have changed their mind due to one reason or another. For instance, they might say they are not prepared enough or the time isn’t right.
Although it’s always the client’s choice when they start therapy, and I am not in the business of manipulating or persuading clients to come to therapy when they don’t want to, I don’t usually just accept such a message at face value either when I suspect nervousness.
I usually recognise when a client is feeling nervous or anxious and will write back asking them if this is the case. It most often is rather than it being the wrong time or whatever the person first said. Once nervousness is out in the open, we will most likely have a dialogue about these feelings and the person will find some courage to come along to their first appointment despite being anxious.
A client might experience an array of difficult feelings about a first counselling session such as being nervous, frightened, anxious or sceptical, and may be so overwhelmed by such feelings that they begin to extricate themselves from the activity of counselling altogether. Other clients might have had negative counselling experiences as, unfortunately, there are some incompetent and/or inexperienced counsellors out there. Clients (and research participants) have told me all sorts of stories about being judge, criticised and blamed – and of counsellors being frightened or overwhelmed by their material too. Also, clients can be worried about confidentiality – and this is another valid concern. After all, if you are going to bare your soul to a counsellor and talk about incredibly private matters, you want to know that the person you are sharing your inner world with is going to be able to keep what you say to herself. Although confidentiality sometimes might need to be breached (e.g. safeguarding matters and being subpoenaed to court), this is very rare. Confidentiality is a really important aspect of counselling and, without it, clients would not feel safe to share their worlds with another.
In therapy, clients are also faced with the challenge of talking about these things to a relative stranger. Clients may feel embarrassed or ashamed about some things and it can sometimes be the first time that these are verbalised. Hopefully, this will take place in a safe environment where the counsellor is capable of containing the therapeutic work and holding the client. The first appointment is often the most difficult in this respect so it is hardly surprising that new clients feel nervous.
But it can then be a relief to talk to someone neutral who does not have any investment in what you do or say other than in a therapeutic context. Talking to someone about our problems and feelings really can help. Even if you are nervous, a competent therapist will listen to you in a non-judgmental way and try and understand what’s going on for you in order to foster your own understanding. It’s worth finding the courage to take those first steps.