The initial session lasts up to an hour and a half. We could then decide to set up a regular appointment, usually once a week for 50 minutes. That decision can be made over more than one session, if we so choose.
But maybe you’re wondering what might happen in the first meeting, if you decide to come and see me…
One thing is usually true: the person coming to see me is wanting to check me out, to find out if I am someone they can not only talk to about difficult things, but also whether I am someone who can help. For example, sometimes people have wanted to be reassured that I won’t raise my eyebrows if they tell me something they feel guilty or ashamed about, or they have wanted to know that I won’t be gushing or artificially ‘nice’ – a kind of ‘tea-and-sympathy’ stereotype of the sympathetic counsellor. And sometimes people want an immediate reassurance that they can start to talk to me about something that has remained unsaid for a long time, or even forever.
Either way, there is only a certain amount that you can tell from a website, so unless you have been recommended me by a friend it’s something of a shot in the dark. But I can tell you this…
What I try to do in every first meeting with someone is firstly understand something about why they have come. That may sound simple (examples: my partner has died/left me… I’m not confident… I am consumed with jealousy… I am having an affair… I am shy) but I think nothing is simple in the workings of us humans. Part of my job is to put words to problems/feelings/emotions/processes so that they can feel more manageable. This goes on all the way through therapy whether you come for weeks, months or years, but it starts right in the first meeting.
I also try to give you some indication of my experience of you, right from the start. It might just be one thing during the meeting. Here are some examples:
- ‘I’ve noticed as we have been talking that you have apologised to me three or four times, as though you’re expecting me to be irritated with how you’re talking to me. Do you think this might connect with what you were saying earlier about your relationship with X?’
- ‘You have spent a large part of our meeting talking about the background, but I’m not yet clear about the thing that brought you here. I don’t know whether you are trying to put it off because it’s difficult, or whether you want me to know absolutely every detail, but the risk is that you’ll leave this meeting without having told me what you really want to address… I don’t know if that happens elsewhere in your life…’
- ‘I’m struck by the way you are describing a situation that sounds absolutely awful and is having a really bad impact on you, but when I ask you how you are feeling right now you say you are totally comfortable…’
Well, these are just examples that may not relate to your personality, but what I am trying to convey is that I am interactive rather that remaining purely an observer. I know that my saying this risks frightening some people off, because they might want to stay in a safe, detached place, in which case that’s what we have to work with.
One thing I do routinely in the first or second meeting is to write down a family tree. I don’t want to imply that ‘it’s all about your childhood’: there’s a risk of looking only at the past instead of having a global, or ‘wide-angle’ view that combines the past, your here-and-now, and the future. Nevertheless, our upbringing is very influential in the formation of our personality, and I will keep that in mind during all of our contact, even though it won’t be talked about in every meeting.