Helping you get through tough times

First counsellor visit

Asking for help can sometimes be scary. Even though it might feel like a big step forward, it’s really important to seek help if things aren’t going very well for you.

A counsellor can help you work through whatever is troubling you and will work with you to find solutions to your problem.

meeting sign Nikki PaulieTalking with a counsellor can leave you feeling listened to, less alone, and like a load has been taken off your shoulders. There are lots of reasons why you might go and see someone.

For example, you might be feeling like life is a bit overwhelming and like you aren’t coping well with your health and wellbeing.

Or, you might feel like it would be helpful to talk with someone about something that’s happened and is impacting on your day-to-day life in a negative way and just won’t go away.

It might even be that you are concerned about a friend or family member and want to talk with a counsellor about this.

How you might be feeling

Before your first visit to a counsellor or when thinking about seeing a counsellor for the first time you might be experiencing a range of emotions, including feeling:

Worried or scared

What will happen at the session? How will you tell the counsellor what’s wrong? What if your problem isn’t really important enough and you’re wasting the counsellor’s time?


What if the counsellor thinks you’re really strange? What if your problem is embarrassing? Maybe you should just deal with this yourself and not bother with the counsellor?

Experiencing any of these feelings is not at all uncommon. 
It’s important to realise that counsellors are used to dealing with all sorts of issues with their clients and that no problem is too big or small or odd to visit them with.

Every problem is important. If your issue is affecting your day to day routine and is troubling you, this is reason enough to talk to someone like a counsellor.

It may help to lessen some of your concerns by arming yourself with information about what your session might be like.

Organising a visit

If you do decide that you want to talk to someone, there are a lot of different services available. How much does it cost? Often your community health centre will provide counselling services free of charge.

You can also avail of counselling from any organisations that may charge on a sliding scale, meaning it won’t cost the full amount if you can’t afford it.

Check the Golden Pages online, Counselling Directory, or ask your local health centre, which you can find on the Health Service Executive website.

What might happen in the first session?

Going and talking to a counsellor can at first be pretty scary. Sometimes it’s really hard to say the things you’re feeling because you are worried the counsellor might judge you.

In the first session it is likely they will want to get some general information about you. They might ask questions about:

  • how you have been feeling lately
  • what has been happening in your life lately
  • your past
  • how things are with your family
  • your medical health.

You might also have to fill out a questionnaire that will help the counsellor to understand what the problem might be. They ask you all these questions is so they can better understand what is going on for you.

Be honest and try and say as much as you can so the counsellor gets a better idea of things.

Everything you say will be confidential unless you tell them that you are thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, then the counsellor might have to inform parents and/or relevant services. See confidentiality for more.

Sometimes people feel concerned because their counsellor doesn’t give them a diagnosis straight away, or at all. Many people visiting counsellors just want to talk about stuff that is happening in their lives and the approach isn’t medical.

For ideas on what sort of therapies a counsellor might use, look at the section on face-to-face help and types of therapy.

After your first session, your counsellor will probably have a talk with you about what you would like to do from here. They may suggest that you come back and see them regularly.

However, ultimately this decision is up to you.

Getting the most out of your sessions

Some general tips that you might want to keep in mind if you go to see a counsellor. These apply to your first visit and others after that:

Write things down beforehand

You might want to take in some things you have written down that you want to talk about so you make sure you remember the important things.

Ask questions

If you don’t understand why you are using a certain therapy or you want to know more than ask – that’s what they’re there for.

Go in with a positive attitude

Going in with an open mind and positive attitude will help you get the most possible out of your counselling session. You may as well give it a go!

Don’t be put off by note taking

Your counsellor might take down notes while you are talking. Don’t be put off by this. Often it’s things like names of people and events so they can talk about it later or specific things you have said that they see as important.

If you feel uncomfortable with them writing things, you can ask to see the notes or talk to your counsellor about it.

Understand or ask about duty of care

Depending on your age, client-counsellor confidentiality means that the counsellor can’t disclose information without your consent. The exception to this is if the counsellor is genuinely concerned that you are at risk of harm or harming someone else (this is called duty of care).

It’s best to ask your counsellor first thing to see what their particular policy is. See confidentiality for more.

Be honest with your counsellor

They are trying to help you get better but you need work with them too. If you’re having trouble expressing what you are feeling that is totally fine and not unusual. Maybe say ‘I’m thinking/feeling this but I’m having trouble putting it into words’.

Don’t be afraid to change counsellors

Sometimes you won’t click with your counsellor. If that is the case and you have given it a bit of time, it may be a good idea to try another counsellor.

There are lots out there and just because it didn’t work with one, doesn’t mean it won’t work. You have to keep trying.

Don’t be afraid of your counsellor!

You can disagree with them and question things if you don’t feel comfortable (but keep in mind that they have spent a long time learning these things, so be open to them being right).

This article was last reviewed on 03 May 2017

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