Inside a Counselling Session-What really happens?

Up until now, my ideas about what goes on in a counselling session were limited to secondhand accounts and things I had seen in movies. Abstractly, I believed that counselling had merit; I had often listened to and even participated in third-party discussions where people determined that “they should probably talk to someone about this,” or, “maybe counselling would help them.” From this lack of personal experience, when I recently suffered the loss of a sister and was contemplating attending a counselling session myself, I had two notions of what it might be like: 1. I would “come to” at the end of the session, as if under hypnosis, only to realize that I had divulged all my deepest secrets and possibly unwittingly made chicken noises; 2. I would undergo an awkward circular conversation with lots of open-ended questions like “How does that make you feel?”, and “What does that mean to you ?”. Well, after visiting Momentum Walk-in Counselling, I am happy to report that neither stereotype proved to be true. In fact, I can sum up my counselling experience in a single word: empowering. I never once felt that I was being asked to do or say anything that I didn’t want to, and I felt comfortable every step of the way. I visited the walk-in clinic located on Whyte Avenue on a Thursday afternoon and was greeted with two kind, smiling faces at the reception area plus a service dog that I’m pretty sure smiled at me too. The clean, warm decor made me feel at home, while the person at the reception desk invited me to have a seat and explained the counselling process. I was given two intake forms to fill out detailing my basic identification information and my reason for the visit. While those forms were collected for review by a counsellor, the receptionist gave me three more pages to look over and sign detailing the length of the session and fee structure, and requesting a brief explanation of my desired outcome from the visit. While I was waiting to be seen by a counsellor, the administrator took me on a little tour of the clinic. There was a larger room where weekly, group sessions were held, and several individual counselling rooms that were decorated more like a stylish aunt’s home than a counselling facility. No leather couch for me to lay on while someone hovered over me with a clipboard—another stereotype dashed. I was then escorted to my own treatment room by two new friendly faces, my counsellors. They introduced themselves warmly and explained the way the session would work. My counsellors were two practicum students, who would be consulting with a supervisor and counselling team. They explained that payment for sessions is based on my household income and made sure that I was comfortable with that. With these housekeeping items out of the way, we got to the heart of the matter: how I was coping with my younger sister’s suicide. The counsellors led the session with kindness, openness and encouragement. They asked me about my family, how others were coping, what coping approaches I was using, and how I was feeling currently. They guided the discussion, but I did the bulk of the talking while being led by their questions and prompts. Whenever I felt my throat closing up and some tears leaking out, the counsellors stayed present, helpful, and supportive. I felt no need to apologize or to mask my feelings, and it was a relief not to worry that my outward expressions of grief might make others feel awkward. These counsellors had seen it before, I felt certain, and I knew that this was a safe and appropriate place to let my guard down. During our discussion, we honed in on what I was looking to take away from this experience, in my case that meant what resources and groups I might find in Edmonton for suicide bereavement, and we looked at my expectations for the grieving process and my personal approaches to coping. After about 40 minutes, we had a 10-minute break where the counsellors went to discuss recommendations with their observing supervisor. I was invited to stay in the room, use the washroom, or take a short walk around in the interim. It had been explained to me that sessions at a walk-in counselling clinic are different than routine, scheduled visits with an assigned therapist. This single session approach is intended to help you find your footing, and set you on a forward path of action. With this in mind, after our break, the counsellors returned with ideas for me. As I had expressed an interest in what the “normal” grieving process might look like, they gave me two information sheets that explained the different feelings and reactions that one could expect, and reassured me that there is no set path for grief: some days we can make great strides towards acceptance, and other days we may feel the sense of loss anew. The counsellors concluded by reiterating my strengths, focusing on what I was already doing to help with healing and the resources that I had to draw from, and they gave me a written list of a suggestions for nexts steps, which included taking up journaling as an outlet, and recommendations for a book, website, and local bereavement organization that I could draw upon for additional resources. I found it very helpful, and indeed empowering, to hear from someone else about everything that I had at my disposal. I felt reassured in hearing about my own strengths and this helped me take ownership of them. Beyond this, I felt cared for: that what I am feeling matters, and that there are people out there with a desire to help and who have hope for my wellbeing. Did I say I could sum up my experience in one word? Okay, let’s actually make it two: my counselling experience was both empowering and comforting. Reaching out for help can be daunting, but when you do reach out and discover that there is a hand waiting there to pull you up, that’s a pretty reassuring feeling. Everyone has a story; we are all fighting our unique battles, but we can do so with the support and encouragement of others. If you have ever thought about seeing a counsellor but have some apprehensions, I would urge you to put those concerns to rest and go. Like me, you just might discover that you are not alone, people do care and want to help you, and with positive support and action things can get better. -Shannon


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#706, 5241 Calgary Trail NW
Edmonton, Alberta
T6H 5G8
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