Updated: Nov 27, 2019
By Cameron Darcy
You’ve had your first session with a therapist. It’s been an odd experience to talk all about your problems with someone you have never met before yet you have agreed to come back and do it again next week. It’s not a friendship and it’s not a business relationship yet money has been exchanged for a service and a schedule has been made between you both.
You have talked all about yourself yet the other person in the chair has said very little about themselves. They have asked all sorts of questions and your life and your family and your concerns yet the only thing you can discern about them is they are attentive and have a cat as evidenced from the hair on their trousers. You may in fact start to be quite curious as to what goes on for the therapist in meeting you for the first time. I know those are the thoughts I had when I finished my first session as a client over 30 years ago. “Why would someone want to sit and listen to my problems for an hour?” “Are they really interested in what I have to say?”
Now I am on the other side of the room as a therapist and I get to meet people for the first time. I can safely report that yes I am really interested in what you have to say. Interested, accepting, curious, calm and all those other words that are attributed to the stereotype of a therapist. And willing to begin and continue a relationship with you – a therapeutic relationship that will, to the best of my ability, see you move into a better space. I know how valuable that relationship can be.
So what happens for me in the first meeting? The honest answer is I endeavour to appear as swan like as possible gliding across the water but my feet are paddling fast underneath. I listen and decide what to ask, when to ask it, how much to initially probe into possibly painful territory. I place what you are saying in the context of past client experiences, of studying, of research, of reading. I try to convey my compassion, empathy and sincerity.
I have a personal style, a cultural background, political views, gendered views, experiences that need to be internally acknowledged and negotiated whilst listening and responding. We may share similar histories that make my emotions flare for a few seconds. It’s my job to negotiate those internal micro moments and stay open to you. And when you leave it’s my job to think and plan and decide how best to help.
Research overwhelmingly points to the rapport between the client as therapist as being the most important determinate of whether the counselling is successful.
I try not to offer the moon and the stars but offer hope that things will improve. In 50 minutes to someone I have never met before. And when you leave I hope you will come back the next week.