For nearly a year I knew this moment would come.
Before starting triad groups as part of my course where we practised our counselling skills, I used to get very nervous and dreaded it to the point of almost wanting to get out of it. However, it did eventually get a little easier with the support of my peers who shared that they felt the same, as well as words of encouragement from my counsellor.
Many of my peers have talked about imposter syndrome which is when someone doubts their own abilities and they feel like a fraud. We have studied hard for the past year, spent several months counselling one another and offering each other constructive criticism. We have been provided with the theory behind person-centred counselling and have been told we are ready to go out on placement, yet I can appreciate why some people may doubt their own ability.
I do not think you can ever be truly prepared for counselling in the big wide world as you never know what a client may bring to the table. Yes, we know how to show the core conditions of empathy, congruence and UPR (unconditional positive regard) no matter what a client brings but as students our experience will be limited.
We have been told that all trainee counsellors and qualified counsellors can only gain real experience through counselling and that our skills will strengthen the more we do. Whilst this makes sense, it can also feel scary as we are no longer counselling our peers but instead ‘real’ people who feel the need to have counselling for a variety of reasons.
Admittedly, whilst on placement we are supposed to be given clients with lighter issues, however nobody can guarantee what a client may end up revealing and the likelihood of students having clients whose biggest issue is what to wear or a dilemma over where to go on holiday is rather slim!!
When I was given my first referral I felt a mixture of relief, (as I had been waiting for this moment for months), excitement (to finally begin the last leg of my training) and pure nerves (am I good enough?!)
Fortunately, I have an amazing support network including my own counsellor, the other students on my course and the counsellors at my placement. I reached out to the other students at my placement about how they felt about their first client and how they handled the nerves, and they all came back with useful and inciteful advice. Reminding me that nerves are normal and show that we care; that the main thing to remember is to actively listen to the client whilst showing empathy and to remember that the client will without a doubt be a million times more nervous than you! This really stood out for me and changed my way of thinking about my own reservations and nerves as although I knew I would still be nervous, I wasn’t the one who had no idea what to expect, nor was I the one who would be opening up to a stranger and possibly sharing things for the first time.
The other students talked about how they felt honoured that clients felt able to open up to them and how they would always remember their first client.
To begin with I thought about ‘revising’ for my first client and then I realised that I would end up spending the entire session trying to remember things that may or not be relevant and being mindful that I could end up coming across as robotic rather than genuine. I decided instead to focus on truly listening, being as genuine as possible and aiming to be warm and welcoming as well as trusting the skills I have learned so far.
As with many first experiences and things we get nervous about, such as exams or interviews, the build up is often far worse than the reality and at the end of the day all we can do is our best. We are after all, only human.
I am aware that I still have plenty to learn but what I have taken away from my first hour (only 99 more to go to qualify as a counsellor!) is that I can do this, and I surprised myself with how I really felt at home in the session, which proves to me that this is the career for me.
I am aware of how many people do not feel that they have anyone in their life that they can truly talk to without fear of judgement so to be in a position to offer people that opportunity is a wonderful feeling.
Here’s to the next 99 hours!!!