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Setting The Scene

Hopefully your counsellor will talk with you about your first appointment and what to expect. This will usually include an assessment which can take anything from 20 to 50 minutes depending on the format they use and your responses.


Why an assessment and what its purpose? Assessments can be really useful for several reasons and these include the following:


Collection of personal information such as name and address, contact details and date of birth, these make sense to most people. When we think about the amount of times we share this information we can take it for granted.


Emergency contact details, some people may ask why - I am only seeing a counselling for not being able to sleep well. It may be during a future session that you start to talk about something distressing and the you don’t feel able to go home straight away, you will wait a bit but you need to contact someone to let them know where you are. Your phone has a flat battery and who remembers peoples phone numbers these days? I don’t. It could be something more serious, such as becoming suddenly unwell (it does happen through no fault of anyone) and you are whizzed off to hospital, letting a loved one know could fall upon the shoulders of the counsellor.


Doctors details are often requested. You may also be asked about your general health and lifestyle including any drug or medication use and remember we don’t judged. However if you become unwell through the use of drugs (prescribed or otherwise) we can help. You may start to talk about something concerning you about your health but you are too embarrassed to speak to your GP, your counsellor may offer to sit with you whilst you make that call. There may also be times when your counsellor may need to speak to your GP (usually with your consent) about your case. Your counsellor should explain why they collect this information and what this means with regard to breaking confidentiality (some issues related to safeguarding, some to involving other services).


Part of the assessment is about setting the scene. You may be asked about your early life, school, work experiences, relationships including parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, romances and life partners and children. This can seem intrusive if you are not used to it. After all you are meeting your counsellor for the first time and you are being invited to offer all this information. It does however provide you will an opportunity to think on a deeper level as to what you wish to gain from your therapy. It gives your counsellor a brief overview of who you are, both from the perspective of your past, but how life is for you in the here and now. It also offers a space to think about what you would like in your life.


Some of these questions could be difficult to answer or you don’t feel ready due to your personal circumstances and that’s ok, you can be honest with your counsellor, they will understand. You may be asked about self harm and thoughts on suicide, this can potentially be alarming. However in order to support you during a difficult time sharing this can help us to address some of pain we feel.


The assessment isn’t a mystery or at least it shouldn’t be. It is often the first step in really thinking about what your expectations of counselling are. It could also mean that in some cases, your counsellor may suggest someone more suited to the issues you want to explore. This is good ethical practice and not a rejection of you. The principle of ‘Do No Harm’ is there to help ensure you get the most appropriate help you need.


Finally, assessments may set the scene but like all interesting journeys the road you take may not following that map.










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