Counselling FAQ

Going to see a counsellor can be scary. We got you to ask us every question you’ve ever had about counselling, and then put them to Harriet Williams, therapy manager of 42nd street. Here are your answers...

Girl looking worried

"Am I going to have to talk about my childhood?"

What is counselling and how can it help?

Counselling is the space and time to think and talk about you and you alone. People find it helpful for different reasons. It can:

  • Help you talk about something difficult that you’ve never shared before
  • Explore parts of yourself and your relationships and help you make sense of them
  • Let out stress and teach you how to cope better
  • Just provide comfort that someone is there for you
  • Be just a safe place to work things out

Counselling isn’t about the counsellor giving you all the answers. It’s about them supporting you as you find your own solutions, and help build your confidence and self-esteem.

What different types of counselling are there? And which is best for me?

Counselling Directory also provide support for those trying to find an appropriate counselling service.

All counsellors are different, so ask them to describe their approach in your first session and decide if that will work with you. And do keep letting them know if you have any ideas about what you think would help, e.g. shorter silences, more creative techniques, more feedback etc.

How many counselling sessions will I have? And how long do I have to wait for it?

This really depends on where you get your counselling. If you get free counselling through your GP there’s often a limit of up to 12 sessions. The wait also depends on which service you’re using.

Always ask how many sessions you’ll have at your initial assessment so you know where you stand. You can also ask if this is negotiable.

You’re also entitled to know how long you’ll be waiting for help, so ask this at the assessment too. If you feel you’ve been waiting too long you can always call them to check where you are on the waiting list.

What happens at the initial assessment?

It will usually start with quite boring admin, like filling in the necessary forms with your personal details. They might also ask you to talk a bit about why you’re coming to counselling and what you hope to get out of it.

Initial assessments are a chance for you, and the service, to double-check this is the right place for you. You might want to ask:

  • What’s the waiting time?
  • What type of counselling do you offer?
  • What will a normal session be like?
  • Can they do evening/weekend appointments?
  • Can I see a male/female counsellor?

It may be worth writing your questions down and taking them with you; it’s easy to forget them once you’re actually in there.

Will the counsellor tell anyone what I’ve said?

There’re two issues here – confidentiality and data protection.


Most services will tell you their confidentiality policy, but if they don’t just ask.

They should explain what bits stay private – between just you and the counsellor. And what bits they may have to share, because you may be at risk to yourself or other people.

Data protection

It’s completely normal to want to know what’s going to happen to your personal details and assessment notes. Any service should be able to tell you how they’re protecting your data. You might want to double-check if they’ll always ask for your consent before talking to your GP or family.

What if I don’t like my counsellor?

This can happen at any stage of the process. If you don’t like them in the very first session, it’s important to air this straight away and ask if you can see someone else in the service.

Or it may be that you start to dislike them during your treatment. If so, you should bring it up so they can try and find a resolution.

Negative reactions such as feeling unheard, uncared for, or unworthy may actually be something ‘left over’ from your past. So sharing this with your counsellor is important for both of you.

Are they going to judge me?

This is a really common worry. Will my counsellor think I’m an idiot? Or horrible? Or a time-waster?

All counsellors are trained to be non-judgmental in their approach, and to respect differences and diversity. If you do feel judged, try and open up to them about how you’re feeling. It could help iron out the kinks.

Remember as well that how much you tell them, and what you tell them, is up to you. Pace yourself if needs be, so you build trust with them gradually. Once you feel safe, you may find you can’t shut up – which is great!

How do I know if the counselling is working?

It’s hard to tell you exactly as you’re the best judge of this!

Here are some of the changes young people noticed during their counselling at 42nd Street.

  • I feel less alone, anxious, depressed, sad, overwhelmed, frightened, angry, suicidal etc
  • I can deal better with my problems
  • I know my strengths
  • I feel like I understand and like myself better
  • I notice how hard I was on myself and where that came from
  • I now know my feelings were normal grief emotions and that I’m not alone
  • I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel
  • I know I can seek counselling again in the future, should I ever need it

There may be physical and practical changes too:

  • I sleep better
  • I have ways of calming myself down
  • I don’t argue with people so much
  • I cried with my counsellor, which is a first
  • I’m going out more with friends
  • I don’t self-harm anymore
  • I’m eating better
  • I’m writing a diary
  • I left or strengthened my relationship
  • I got a job

What if I’m not coping between appointments?

The gaps between weekly sessions can seem enormous sometimes, and occasionally tough things happen during the week that catapult you back to how you felt when you first began. Finding a counsellor that you can trust and talk to can feel amazing – you may feel a bit in awe, or like you really need them.

If you’re finding it hard between sessions, then tell them that. Remember they’re trained to be there through all these stages. These tips may help too:

  • Go for a walk after sessions, or somewhere quiet, and really reflect on what was said and why it’s helpful
  • Meet someone you trust during the week and chat things through with them
  • Write a diary, which you could bring to your next session
  • Indulge in a hobby that makes you feel good
  • Draw, or play/listen to music
  • Get some exercise

But if you’re really struggling to cope between sessions then seek support from your GP.

What if I open up just as the session or time is up?

Even if your counsellor seems understanding… but ends your session anyway, this can make you feel all sorts of cruddy things like:

  • Do they even care?
  • Why can’t they give me some more time?
  • No one is there for me
  • How could they just do that?
  • I feel so low

These feelings are important, so share them with your counsellor as they happen. Or maybe write them down when you get home and bring it with you next time. You may want them to extend their time with you but, generally, counsellors don’t do this.

Try and plan your counselling days so you don’t have to rush off somewhere straight afterwards.

What do they do if I start crying? Will they hug me? Or just, like, watch?

Crying is normal and could happen at any point during counselling. They may pass you some tissues but services usually have very clear policies that mean they can’t really touch or hug you.

To feel able to cry during your sessions, you need to feel they’re ‘being with you’ as you express yourself emotionally. This can feel really empowering. Recognise that your feelings are important and someone can be there for you. Also crying can give you a new way of expressing yourself, containing and naming your emotions, soothing yourself, and understanding your feelings.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


Updated on 23-Dec-2015