Attending A Counselling Or Psychotherapy Mutual Assessment Session
After making contact with a therapist of your choice who has availability, you‘ll be invited to what’s usually termed a ‘mutual assessment session’ or ‘initial appointment’. This is where you and your potential counsellor or psychotherapist meet face-to-face. Before you go it’s important to think about what you want to say. Sometimes this task can be made easier with some questions. Try asking yourself the following:
- ‘What is it that’s troubling me?’
- ‘What do I think about it?’
- ‘What are the major points that stand out to me?’
In addition to this see if you can think of anything else about your situation that you feel would be important to mention, such as important life events or anything that you think might be less obvious. Spend a little time on this. You might find it beneficial to note your responses down. You may want to take your notes with you. If you do it’s more than okay to pause and refer to your notes whilst you’re in the session. All this will do is let your potential therapist know that you’ve taken time to think about what you need to say, which is a good thing. Your potential therapist may ask how you feel about the things that you talk about. Don’t be put off by this, it’s not meant to try and catch you out. What your potential therapist will be doing is putting together an initial understanding of your emotional responses.
The assessment session is also a time for you to get to know something about your potential therapist. If you feel a bit stuck on the day about what to ask, here are some general questions that you might consider:
- ‘Are you qualified?’
- ‘Are you a member of a professional body?’
- ‘How long have you been practicing?’
- ‘Do you have experience in working with the issue or issues that I’m bringing?’
Some people might think that asking a therapist questions might not be the done thing, even rude, but this is not the case. Asking questions isn’t wrong as long as you do so in a respectful manner. In fact I’d encourage you to ask at least a couple more. Here are some further questions that you might ask in a mutual assessment, if they haven’t already been covered:
- ‘What is your policy on confidentiality?’
- ‘What is your policy on cancelled sessions?’
- ‘What is your policy on rescheduling if I need to cancel a session at short notice?’
In the counselling and psychotherapy world confidentiality is regarded as one of the cornerstones of best practice. Your potential therapist should conduct the assessment session and any further therapy you agree to take part in with a high degree of confidentiality. During the assessment session your potential therapist will probably want to gather some information about you and your present day situation that you may not have talked about. They may ask about your childhood, your family relationships and history, and your present day support systems. This additional information will help them understand you and the situation around you in more depth.
Your potential therapist will also assess you and what you are bringing to therapy in relation to their experience and ways of working. This will allow them to come to a decision on whether it is appropriate for them to offer to work with you or it is better for you to be referred to a more experienced and/or specialist practitioner or service. Don’t be alarmed by this. It’s not that you’ve done something wrong. If your potential therapist does decide that they think it would be better to refer you, then they’re doing this out of their professional responsibility to you and they have your best interest in mind.
During the assessment session it is important to check out with yourself how you are feeling. If you’re left with a more or less positive feeling when you consider the idea of working with a therapist, then this may evidence a good enough match. However, if you’re left feeling uncomfortable or you don’t feel safe, for whatever reason, don’t overlook or dismiss this. This may evidence that the match between yourself and your potential therapist is not right for you, and you may need to look elsewhere. When I’ve suggested this to people in the past, some have said that they couldn’t be sure one way or the other. If this is the case then allow yourself time to sit with the unsure feeling and see how it develops. It’s okay to say to your potential therapist that you’d like to take twenty-four hours to think things through before you make a decision. They’ll understand that you’re taking the decision seriously.
Should you and your potential therapist agree to work together, then you’ll need to understand how that is going to happen. This is usually referred to as a ‘Contract’ or ‘Agreement’. Although some therapists do work with a verbal contract, the majority of therapists work with a written contract. If your potential therapist does, they should provide you with a copy of this document. It will cover areas like: confidentiality, fees, cancelled sessions, contact information etc. It is important that you read this. If you want to take this document away with you and read it through more thoroughly then it’s okay to ask to do this. Remember; don’t be afraid to ask for clarification about anything that you feel unsure about. In line with best practice any questions you do ask should be taken seriously.
Finally, if you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to agree some mutually convenient days and times to meet to commence your therapy sessions…