Answers to the most frequently asked questions about the practical aspects of counselling
A counselling session is a chance to talk about whatever you wish – from everyday events, problems and thoughts, to feelings, memories and dreams. Sessions provide a safe space to look at things with your therapist in a highly focused way, exploring in depth exactly how you experience them, what impact they have on your life and goals, and where you might wish to make changes.
Sessions are usually on a weekly basis, at the same time each week. Sessions normally last for 50 minutes – however longer sessions, up to 90 minutes, can sometimes be arranged. It’s important to attend counselling regularly so that the process is able to build some momentum – this really helps a lot in making gradual, steady progress towards your goals.
At Anchor, we find the most common things that bring people to counselling are anxiety, depression, stress, and relationship problems. However, any number of things can create difficulties in someone’s life – triggering issues with anger, phobias, addictions, low self-esteem, obsessive thoughts and actions, eating disorders, and more. Counselling can help you explore and overcome all of these. For a more complete list of the kind of things Anchor therapists can help with, see issues.
At Anchor, all our therapists abide by stringent professional codes of ethics. Part of this is a commitment to the utmost confidentiality – we understand and completely respect the need for privacy and discretion when looking at sensitive issues. Your therapist will talk in more detail about confidentiality at your initial assessment session, and you will receive a written contract to confirm your discussion.
Counselling has the potential to work for everyone, but it’s really important to find a counsellor who is the right ‘fit’ to help you achieve change – counselling with the wrong person either won’t work at all, or it can drag on for far longer than it needs to. Fortunately, figuring out if you’ve found the right person isn’t complicated: just trust your own sense of whether the relationship feels comfortable and supportive; then see what happens during the first few weeks of counselling. Research has shown that if counselling with a particular therapist is going to work for you, most people will see initial signs of change within the first 6 weeks or so, even if it takes much longer than that to completely resolve your difficulties.
Depending on what you want to achieve and what kind of issue you are exploring, counselling may last as little as half a dozen sessions or it may continue for several months or years. Problems that have been around a long time, especially those which are rooted early in life, or which are more complex in nature (affecting many different parts of your life), generally take longer to resolve. Studies have shown that on average, around half of people will have made a full recovery after between 13-18 sessions, with the other half needing longer to achieve the changes they wish to see.
Counselling may involve talking about issues that are difficult or painful. This can often form part of a really helpful process of understanding and cleansing and moving-on; but there may be other times when it just doesn’t feel like the best or safest thing to do. It’s really important to not force things too far, or too fast.
If you find the right counsellor, and take things at the right pace, there shouldn’t be any danger – but you are the only person who can really sense accurately whether a period of difficulty in counselling is part of an overall path towards growth… or not. We strongly encourage everyone undertaking counselling to be mindful of what’s happening for you, and trust your instincts. If it’s not going in a direction that feels helpful, then explain this to your counsellor so that together you can try to approach things differently, or more slowly – or, if necessary, plan to end your sessions. Having a properly planned ending helps ensure you aren’t left with things that feel raw and unmanageable. Then you are free to carry on living your life as normal – and to consider counselling again in the future if it feels right.
The word “counselling” is often used to refer to shorter-term or ‘time-limited’ work, and “psychotherapy” for longer-term, ‘deeper’ work – but they are both essentially talking therapies, and what happens in the sessions is very similar. Anchor therapists are trained to explore issues at whatever depth is appropriate to the individual, and all are experienced in both long and short-term work. We generally use the word “counselling” to refer to all types of talking therapy.
Anchor therapists will not give advice about what you should or shouldn’t do in a particular situation. Where appropriate, your therapist may occasionally make suggestions from previous experience, or give pointers to other services that can provide practical support – but there is never any obligation to follow such suggestions. We generally find that what is most helpful is for your therapist to listen carefully and help you define issues in your own terms, so you can come to your own decisions and take charge of your own life.
For people who are unable to attend regular face-to-face sessions at our clinics in London and Reading, we are able to offer online video counselling by Skype. This option can be ideal if you are a shift worker or have limited mobility – or if you are living abroad, or simply further afield in the UK.
We ask that you give as much notice as possible of any holidays and other planned absences – minimum one week in advance. Planned absences and holidays with at least 1 week’s notice will not be charged for.
For long-term counselling, in order to maintain some regularity and momentum, we ask that you try not to take more than 6 weeks’ holiday per year.
Our therapists also commit to taking no more than 6 weeks’ holiday per year. They will always endeavour to give you at least a month’s notice of their own holiday dates.
If you need to cancel a session unexpectedly (i.e. with less than 1 week’s notice), we ask that you let your therapist know directly by phone, text or email. He/she will always acknowledge any message or voicemail so you can be sure they have received it. Please note that the fee for a cancelled session is still payable in full, at the following week’s session.
You are completely free to end counselling at any time. However, planning an ending in advance allows time to review what you’ve achieved, look at your internal and external supports, and make sure you leave feeling safe and confident about the future. For short-term work, this may involve just 1 or 2 sessions. For longer-term work we normally recommend allowing at least 4-6 sessions (perhaps longer if you’ve been in counselling for a year or more) to come to a ‘good ending’.
Payment is normally due at the beginning of each session, by cash or cheque. Therapists are not usually able to process payment by credit or debit card. Fees may sometimes be paid by standing order if you prefer – this can be discussed with your therapist in person.