Counselling techniques: Leading in to a meeting

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One-to-one counselling is a meeting between two people.  Like all meetings, it has a ‘before’.  The time dimension is crucial to all relationships.  Consider how we talk about meeting up in different ways:

  • ‘We bumped into each other in the street’ (quick and unplanned)
  • ‘On my way to his house, I started thinking about our relationship’ (semi-planned, some lead time)
  • ‘All week I had been looking forward to being together again’ (planned, strong lead time)
Meetings do not have to be managed in an over-controlling way, but a good counsellor will be aware of the ‘before’ dimension to meetings.  In particular, they will be aware of these facts:

  • Some clients , consciously or unconsciously, may suffer from anxiety and fear about meeting.  They may worry about what to say and how to behave, since any time together, to contain freedom, must contain uncertain ‘blank space’.
  • Some clients, consciously or unconsciously, may experience keenness and anticipation.  They may feel a need to relieve themselves of thoughts and feelings that they have been containing uncomfortably.  This keenness may be mixed with worry about whether, and how, the session will allow such relief to happen.
  • Different clients will have different experiences about ‘meeting up’, whether from natural inclination, childhood, or learned experience.  Each person brings to each meeting behaviours which can be comfortable or uncomfortable, awkward or easy, depending on their ingrained approach to meeting with others.
A good counsellor will flex their pre-meeting and early-meeting behaviour to take account of all of this.  Even if a counsellor has a relatively unreactive stance, they will be thinking, reflecting and observing, getting an empathic feel for the client’s inner experience, position and situation

There are an infinite number of ways client and counsellor can lead in to a meeting, but here are a few example situations they may face.

  1. George has been hearing voices telling him to do harm to others.  He desperately wants relief from them, but they tend to continue speaking to him, even in counselling sessions.  He is not sure whether to tell the counsellor about the voices, since he fears that the counsellor may become concerned and tell the authorities, and he will lose legal access to his young daughter, and/or be sectioned against his will.  He experienced his own mother as confusing and untrustworthy, and has grown up with a learned distrust of sharing his inner conflicts.
  2. Anya fears she is boring others with her problems.  She has sensed her usual friends ebbing away, tired of her repeated need to talk to them endlessly about her problems.  She feels nervous going into a session, on the one hand desperate to talk and be heard, but also worried that she will just be boring someone else, this time a counsellor, with her problems.
  3. Paul has been told counselling will help, but his anxiety is so severe that he finds himself trying to think of excuses not to turn up.  He almost wishes an accident would happen so that the session will be cancelled.  He feels as though he is going to be trapped in a room for an hour, with no escape, and he feels powerless to do anything about it.
AN EXERCISE

Perhaps reflect on the above three client situations.  If you were a counsellor, how might you flex your approach to help each very different client feel welcome in your presence.  In particular:

  • What communications might you offer before the session?  How might they differ in each case?
  • What behavioural adjustments might you make as the client enters your presence?  How, for instance, might you address any power dynamics?
  • How might the early part of your session with the client vary in each case?  How might you use silence or speech, body language, pacing, formality or informality, to help the client feel comfortable, and increase the chances of a good session from the client’s point of view?