What to expect during a counselling session

February 22, 2023

The idea of counselling may bring to mind images of long couches and stuffy rooms – with grey-haired, bespectacled doctors rubbing their beards and asking, “And how do you feel about that?”

But while this idea of counselling has graced TV and movie screens for decades, what does counselling actually look like?

Types of counselling

While movies typically focus on mental health or marriage counselling, it’s important to note that you can seek counselling on a variety of topics.

For example, through Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), eligible members* can access counselling for the following:

  • Academic
  • Career/pre-retirement
  • Legal
  • Financial (budgeting, financial crisis)
  • Occupational stress
  • Crisis/suicide
  • Depression/mental health
  • Grief/bereavement
  • Couple/relationship
  • Family concerns/parenting
  • Trauma/critical incident
  • Emotional/behavioural concerns

What happens in the first counselling session

If media depictions of counselling intimidate you, you should know that the process is quite simple.

Before you get into a deeper discussion, your first session typically begins with a few minutes of filling out and reviewing standard paperwork.

You and your counsellor will then spend some time exploring what has brought you to counselling. This is also your opportunity to ask any questions.

“During the session, we’ll ask a few questions to guide you or to clarify information,” says Jodie Voth, manager of Manitoba Blue Cross’s EAP. “Your counsellor will primarily be curious about your reasons for coming to counselling, what you have tried (successfully and unsuccessfully) in the past, and what your hopes and goals might be for your work together.”

At the end of your time, you’ll be asked to give some feedback on how you felt about the session and whether you would like to schedule another appointment. Your counsellor will give you some feedback also, as well as comment on the potential areas they can help you work with and how you might do that together.

Finding the right fit

Not all counsellors will be perfect for every client. During your first session, ask yourself:

  • Do I feel safe and accepted?
  • Does my counsellor “get” me?
  • Do I feel comfortable talking about the things that brought me to counselling?
  • Does my counsellor share my counselling goals?
  • Is my counsellor likeable?  

Asking questions during your first session is vital to gauging whether your counsellor is the right fit. Voth suggests you ask:

  • Whether or not they assign homework. Do you want homework? Some people do, some don’t.
  • How often they suggest meeting. Does this fit with your hopes or expectations?
  • What is their philosophy on counselling?  What role do they take? According to the counsellor, what ingredients are required to make counselling successful?
  • How they may approach your issue. Does the answer match with your hopes or expectations? Does it make you feel positive about your future work together?
  • What is their experience with concerns like yours? Have they taken additional training in this area? Do they enjoy working with this sort of issue? Does the counsellor foresee any limitations to their ability to help with this matter and if so, how do they plan to address that?

After the first session

If you decide to continue with counselling, you and your counsellor will make a plan for future sessions together. Most sessions will include a brief check-in at the beginning, where you might give an update or discuss what you’d like to do with the time. The bulk of the hour will be spent working on your chosen focus for the session, and the final 10-15 minutes will be spent on final thoughts, reviewing plans for the time until the next session and scheduling the next appointment.

Counselling misconceptions

“Sometimes, people are more surprised by what doesn’t happen in counselling,” Voth says. “For instance, many people expect the counsellor to tell them what to do or give them a personal opinion on their situation. That isn’t our job. Instead, we’re there to provide objective support and guidance toward the client’s goals. I’ve also had a number of people ask, ‘Do I lie down on this thing or what?’, referring to the couch and the old Freudian psychoanalysis... That doesn’t happen either, but I welcome people to lie down if they feel more comfortable doing so!

Voth notes that at the end of the day, counsellors are humans, too.  

“We’re not intimidating people,” she says. “We’re trained to make folks feel at ease when talking about tough stuff.”

Seeking help

You can access support through Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program. Begin the process to access counselling services here. (Sign in to mybluecross® to confirm your coverage.)

If an EAP counsellor doesn’t seem like a good fit, you can request a different counsellor by contacting our intake line at 204.786.8880 or toll-free at 1.800.590.5553.

*These services are not available under all plans. Please visit your mybluecross® online account to confirm your coverage.

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