Before we can begin a series of counselling sessions it is important that you are clear on what counselling is, and what it is not, this will be explained during the contracting process. We will setup a working agreement together, the working agreement covers everything from the duration and location of the sessions, together with the limits of confidentiality. Whilst counselling is strictly confidential between the client and counsellor, there are certain limitations that will be explained during the contracting process. Contracting will be carried out in the first session and the client will retain a copy of the working agreement for their own records. If therapy is to be conducted outdoors in nature, an additional working agreement will be included. This covers additional aspects of safety and confidentiality relevant to working outdoors.
The Counselling Process
Once contracting is complete, it is important for the counsellor to get to know the client and what it is the client brings to therapy. This process works towards building the counselling relationship, it is a relationship where the client can feel safe. Safe in the knowledge that what they share with the counsellor will be kept confidential. The counsellor should always put the client’s safety and well-being foremost. Counselling can be challenging, upsetting, invigorating and exciting, it depends on what the client brings to therapy, how the therapist works with the client and at what stage the therapeutic process is at.
The subject matter that the client brings to counselling defines how the sessions will progress. Different conditions or situations require different approaches and this is where integrative counselling can really benefit the client. This is not to suggest that other forms of counselling are less effective, it is simply a counselling approach which utilises more than one therapeutic model. The counsellor will work with the client to develop a strategy or work in a way to achieve the desired results.
Many organisations apply a ‘time-limited’ approach or ‘brief therapy’ as it is sometimes called, this is the process of capping the amount of sessions that a client can have for any one given condition or situation. Much has been said for and against brief therapy, on the one hand it can focus both the client and the counsellor on the moment, on the issue at hand, or it can act as a means of setting a target by placing a time limit on achieving the desired result. On the other hand it can be seen to put pressure on the client to achieve within a desired timescale. I recognise the benefits of brief therapy and also the downsides, this is why I practice both brief therapy, delivered over a period of 6 to 12 sessions, and longer-term therapy with no cap on the amount of sessions a client can receive. This will all be discussed during the contracting stage.
The thought of completing counselling can be quite daunting for some clients, on the one hand we can be happy that the aims have been achieved, and the client can continue life in a way that serves them better than before. On the other hand, they may feel a sense of loss, a sense of losing a companion who has helped them move on, there can be many feelings associated with endings. The ending process therefore needs to be managed, often client may wish to return a while later, and sometimes it may be appropriate to refer the client to another professional body. All of the options will be covered, in order to offer the client the best possible support going forward.