As potential clients, you seek out services to get help with your issues. So, you look around on the internet, maybe find a few counseling directories and select a therapist that looks like they might meet your needs. You call the therapist up, talke for a bit, and then make the decision to take the plunge into therapy. Or do you? You might find yourself answering questions from the therapist or an intake specialist as they create a profile or basic record of you prior to your appointment, but are you willing to commit to the appointment once it is scheduled? Therapy requires courage on your part, to not only go through the motions of creating the appointment, but following through and actually showing up for the appointment. You can't get better if you don't commit to the process of therapy in the most basic way: actually doing therapy.
Clients tend to work on various levels of commitment, and some counselors may argue or refute that this is the case. Clients would do well to recognize that counselors set aside time in their schedules (sometimes even early in the morning when they would not otherwise be in the office), to meet with a new client. When a new client who makes a claim that they will appear for a session subsequently does not appear for that appointment, the counselor may be left with a situation of wasted time, energy and resources. This is turn can have negative consequences of eventual rate increases to cover lost income over time, or counselors setting limits on when new clients are accepted.
If you are thinking of beginning therapy, congratulations. It is an excellent choice in self-care and will open you to a perspective of yourself that perhaps you had not considered. When you make your appointment, you should be mindful that scheduling to see the counselor means that he or she has set aside that time exclusively for you. It is a welcome courtesy to cancel an appointment at least 24 hours in advance of your appointment if you cannot make it, so that the counselor can use that time in other ways. Being committed to the appointment is a step in being committed to therapy...your personal self-care. This is an opportunity to do something your good, there is no need to be afraid or fearful. Sometimes clients are embarrassed about wanting to cancel and simply don't call to do so. While a counselor might understand you have this feeling, we just ask for a quick connection (even if by Email), to let us know you won't be showing up. Most likely, we will be sorry to miss the chance to meet you, but we will be grateful for your courtesy and respect of our time.
As a counselor, I try to be flexible in scheduling, but I also appreciate the same courtesy from new and existing clients. Scheduling sessions can be challenging in any practice, and there is some investment of time on both sides to engage in the process. We both have something to gain or lose, depending on the success or failure of the scheduled appointment. The hope I have for you, wherever you seek services is that you will find the commitment to therapy and keeping your appointments to be more a mark of a commitment to yourself. While the counselor also benefits, he or she wants the best for you, which can only be achieved by your effort. While sometimes the path of therapy can be challenging, being brave is a mark of strength and in my practice you are always treated with respect and courtesy. As a counselor and as a person, it is the same I ask of you.
Counseling can be a scary proposition for many people. The idea of going to a place to meet with someone you don't know, and to be expected to open up to that person about who you are and what is going on with you, is no easy task for most people. You want the experience to go well, but fear may hold you back. What might be helpful to keep in mind, is that the counselor by and large is often just as nervous to meet you. They want you to feel comfortable meeting with them, and they are trying to put their best foot forward in providing you with an experience that is warm, friendly, and done with an understanding that you might be scared of being judged or seen as crazy. Counselors are well trained, and many tend to understand what it is like to be a client because they have done their own work in seeing a therapist.
So in coming to therapy for the first time, one of the things you can do, is begin a conversation of what you expect from your counselor and what you need from them in the counseling relationship. This is your time, and since you are often paying for that time, you want your needs to be met by someone who will listen to you, and be guided by your concerns in working with you during the course of therapy. This conversation will also often involve the rules the therapist or counselor has in their practice, so that you know what is expected of you regarding payment, cancelling appointments, scheduling, and other issues. In this way, you and the counselor are developing your interaction, and establishing rapport - a connection, that can build trust and mutual respect.
Counselors want the best for their clients, and clients want a counselor who will listen. When you meet your counselor for the first time, make sure you let them know what you need to help you feel comfortable, and what you need during the course of therapy. The counseling relationship is stronger when there is open communication that is formed by both you and the counselor, working together to meet your mutually set goals.
Shawn Thomas Berthel M.S., is the owner of Life Path Counseling PLLC, and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He lives in University Place, Washington.