To my clients on the first day of counseling:
Coming in to counseling is a difficult thing to do for many people. You are trusting another person with your troubles, with your personal opinions and your private relationships. There are a lot of questions that may be lingering in your mind when you walk through my door, and some of them I may be able to answer.
I speak for myself, and not necessarily all therapists. As a licensed mental health counselor, here is what I want you to know when you come into counseling for the first time.
1. I'm not here to judge you.
The judgments, or fears about judgments, that you bring into this room are your own. It's not my job to judge you - in fact, my job is to do the exact opposite. You tell me your deepest darkest secrets, and look at my face for judgment. My job is to accept you as a human being, and to show you that in my office, you are enough. You may have struggles, you may have been told you're not enough, you may not like parts of yourself. My job is to sit with you, with all of it. And to hope that you can take a piece of that enough-ness with you when you leave.
2. You may not be showing me your best side. I know that.
Usually when we meet people for the first time, we want to show our best side. In counseling, we do the opposite. I know that the side of yourself that you are showing me may not be your favorite side, or the way that you normally present yourself to new people.
3. It's okay if you can't tell me everything about your life in the first session.
There may be a lot going on in your life, and there are certainly a lot of events that got you to where you are now. I know that. I'll guide you through questions to find out what I think is important for the first session, and encourage you to share with me what you think I need to know. We will get to know each other as we go. In fact, you'll get to know yourself better as we go.
4. I haven't had your exact life experience.
And that's a good thing. Sometimes we feel more connected to those who have gone through similar experiences, and sometimes we wish our therapists could know what those experiences feel like. Connecting with someone who has shared an experience can be powerful - and that's what group therapy is for. I'd argue that it can also be very powerful to have someone reflectively listen to your understanding of an experience, someone who has not lived through a similar one. In individual counseling, I may not have had your experience, and that's okay. I'd rather explore your understanding of an event without having my own assumptions about the experience.
5. Pretty much everything I do in our conversation is purposeful.
I say "pretty much" because I'm not perfect, and I sometimes have reactions too. And sometimes I need to sneeze, and that is not a part of therapy. But generally, if I'm asking you a certain question, telling you something, or responding in a certain way, it's intended to further facilitate your exploration and your healing. If nothing else, I'm constantly working to be present with you and to respond in a genuine manner.
6. I'm on your side.
From the moment you become my client, I'm on your side. I'm not on your mother's side, your boyfriend's side, or your boss's side. I'm not in your day-to-day life, and that's the beauty of seeking a counseling professional's perspective. If I ask tough questions, it's because I think it may be helpful for you.
7. I believe things can get better.
Regardless of what problems you carry with you when you walk through my door, I believe they can get better. I'm a little biased, because I'm a counselor and I'm trained to see things through a positive lens. If you don't have hope, I can hold it for you and share it when you're ready.
Of course, my belief that things can get better is not a naïve and foolish one. I don't believe I can cure cancer or change circumstances outside your control. I do believe, though, that I can help you to become unstuck, to explore a problem, to take a new perspective, to improve a quality of life, to sit with you and to help you feel less alone.
8. I believe there is good in every person.
Again, I don't think I could do this work if I thought differently. Through my counseling work I've discovered that every person I work with - even those who live very different lives than I do - is worthy of respect and has goodness inside of them. When you walk through my door, I believe there is good in you, too.
I invite you to respond to these thoughts in the comments, or to ask your own questions that have come up as a client, as a therapist, or as an individual curious about the healing process of counseling.
I look forward to hearing your stories when you walk through my door.
With all my best,
*NOTE: This letter is not written to any one individual in particular, or with any person in mind, but rather to "the client" as a more general idea. This is not intended to replace therapy; please contact your doctor or mental health professional with concerns.