Counselling via the NHS Part 2: The sessions

Having shared about the process of being referred for and waiting for NHS counselling, today I'm going to share some of my experiences of the sessions themselves. My final post in this three-part series will be my overall thoughts on the whole process.


Before my first appointment, I was scared.

Simple as that.

It's bad enough knowing you have to open up about your deepest thoughts with someone you've never met, but on top of that I get incredibly anxious about appointments in general, about going to a place I've never been before, and about the whole 'getting in an Uber to get there' thing.


My appointments were in the psychological services building of a local hospital a seven-minute car journey away from where I lived, and it was a hospital set in an old building in very open grounds. It didn't feel at all like a hospital, which made me feel more calm.

I signed in at reception and was directed to a waiting area, where there was a pile of questionnaires. These questionnaires assess your levels of anxiety and depression, and these were to be filled in before every appointment to chart progress.

At my appointment time, my counsellor came to collect me and we headed into the appointment room, which was spacious with large open windows. This helped lessen my feelings of being trapped, so I feel very fortunate about the location of my sessions.


Counselling is really, really tiring.

Please be aware of this before you start. Clear your diary for the rest of the day, especially after your first few sessions, and look after yourself.

Be kind to yourself.

I was aware of this, having tried courses of private therapy over the few years prior to these sessions, but I was shocked after those first private sessions at just how exhausted those hours made me.

You're doing a lot of talking about yourself and your life, and you're talking about things that are very difficult to open up about.

You're going to be talking about extremely deep-rooted fears, and digging into your most vulnerable thoughts.

It will be tiring, and it's ok to feel that way.

You might cry (I did, a lot) and that too is pretty draining.

Be prepared for that, and realise you'll feel a little vulnerable after. It might be worth warning a close friend or family member what you're up to, in case you need a bit of support after. I don't mean you have to talk about it, but it could help to let the people around you know you may need a bit of space!


And MY sessions?

Well.

I credit this counsellor with completely transforming a lot of my thinking patterns.

He really set me off on a path of proper change.

Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of issues, far more than we could ever have sorted through in the 12 sessions we spent together. But what we did do was work on a framework for tackling these issues. The things we didn't have time to tackle together, I could continue to try and work on alone long after our sessions were over.

I had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which places emphasis on tracing the unhelpful thought patterns and taking action to make new associations and develop new, healthier behaviours.


I'd say it took about four or five sessions for me to begin to feel changes. I was noticing small things that would have previously led to a panic attack were now leading to me just feeling stressed. Occasionally, I would be able to press pause, and not let anxious feelings escalate as high as they were trying to. It was very hit and miss at this early stage, but it was enough for me to take notice.

I also found that, even when I did really panic or have days where my depression was very high, I was more able to analyse why I felt that way. I was able to pinpoint triggers, and come up with logical explanations as to why I had reacted to something in an irrational way. This was the first step to making lasting changes.


Something else this helped with hugely was giving me a new vocabulary with which to speak about my struggles. I was being equipped with the tools to understand and explain what was happening to me.

This played an enormous part in helping those closest to me understand what on earth had been going on in my mind for the past few years. Depression and anxiety can be very difficult to understand if you've never felt those feelings yourself.

I now had the words to translate my feelings into explanations those around me would understand. It was over this counselling period that there were some real breakthroughs with my parents, for example, as I was able to explain some of the science and really get across to them what it was that was going on.


As I mentioned earlier in this post, I've had private counselling before, so why was it this counsellor who got through to me?

I've got a lot of thoughts on this and it may need its own post, but the main crux of the matter is that I couldn't lie to him.

With previous counsellors, I had found it too easy to control what I was telling them. There were some valuable conversations, but I had always been holding something back.

My NHS counsellor knew when I was holding back.

His background was as a mental health nurse on an acute eating disorders ward. That meant he knew the mind of a young female struggling with perfectionism, anxiety, depression, controlling behaviours around food...

Anything I said, he'd heard it and seen it all before, and from girls who were in a far more troubling state than me.

I felt he completely and utterly understood me.

He knew when I was holding back, and he never, ever made me feel silly for anything I said, or for the amount of tears I cried.


I'm going to round this up here, because it's long (congratulations if you're still reading!)

What I really wanted to get across is that my experience with my counsellor was truly transformational. Those twelve hours we spent pulling apart my most confused and unhealthy thoughts worked.

He helped me really set forth on my path to change.

We're now almost exactly a year on from my first session with him, and my life has changed so much.

There's still a way to go, but the girl walking into that first session a year ago would not recognise the girl writing this now.

And that is a pretty great feeling.


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