Counselling session can facilitate the process of overcoming or working through personal issues from everyday hardship as well as potentially life threatening situations. This reflective essay will analyse a counselling session that I have attended with a professional counsellor. Her name was Hend. The session was to be recorded so I can refer to particular examples during the session. In this reflective essay I will give an overview of the counselling session as well as a discussion of my feelings before, during and after the session. Key skills used by the counsellor such as active listening, reflective skills and empathy will be explained, supported with verbatim examples from the session. Furthermore, the overall experiences and response to the session will be provided. The theories of recognised intellectuals in the field of counselling and psychotherapy will support my material and facilitate in learning the basic skills that I need to poses as a future counsellor. I attended a counselling session as I was required in order to complete this assignment. The counsellor that I saw has been working in a Community Mental Health Institution for many years.
She also had a private room where I had my counselling session. The issue that was discussed with the counsellor was my fears and concerns about my physical health. I have had this problem for many years now, since I was very young. At some stage, when I was studying in high school my condition got better, but a few years after that I started getting even worse. I have had many blood tests, heart checks and nothing showed any major concern. This has been affecting my life as I cannot do things that I enjoy doing. I always have the thought in my mind that I have some serious disease or that I will faint and I am constantly checking my heart rate. The counsellor has helped me to become more aware of that thought and taught me some techniques on how to prevent that thought from developing. It was a rainy Saturday morning when I attended the counselling session. I have never received any professional counselling previously. I had feelings of nervousness and anxiousness on my way to the counsellor as I was not sure where to start or what to expect from that counselling session. It seemed like I was trying to plan in my head what I was going to mainly focus on and I was also thinking about what specific questions that she may ask. I was concerned about talking too openly with a person that I was going to meet for the first time in my life. Her room was located on the fifth floor in a private building.
I arrived little early and waited for her in the corridor. Couple of minutes after I arrived, the lift door opened and this middle aged Lebanese woman came out and greeted me with a warm smile on her face. She leaded me to her room and I sat down in the waiting area while she prepared her room for our session. My feelings of anxiousness dropped down to some level because the counsellor seemed much nicer and accepting in person, as I did not get that impression when I spoke to her on the phone to arrange my appointment. She offered me a tea or coffee. Harms (2007) suggests that the welcoming skills are very important especially at the first session as it helps clients relax and start feeling comfortable. At the beginning of the counselling session the feelings of being anxious and nervous were still present. Furthermore, expressing some of my emotions and experiences made me feel a bit uncomfortable and it seemed like I was scared of how the counsellor will perceive me. However, Hand possessed valuable skills of understanding and accepting.
Being non-judgemental with unconditional positive regard, which requires completely accepting the client as the person they are, is one of the essential counsellor’s quality for effective counselling according to Rogers (Geldard & Geldard, 2012). Hence, the counsellor’s skills of being non-judgemental with unconditional positive regard encouraged me to talk more freely and openly about what was going on at that stage of my life. Reflecting back on my feelings after the counselling session, it seemed like I was relieved from the inner pressure that I was experiencing as a result of suppressed emotions and fears. The impression of the counsellor giving such an importance to my story and the feeling of being listened to is invaluable. However, when the counsellor was ready she invited me in her room. I set down on the chair and she set opposite me and asked me how I was that day. She opened the session by saying that she had the chance to reflect back on the information regarding my worries about my physical health that I have given as a background over the phone when I rang to make the appointment. She invited me to start talking about the roots of what I was experiencing at that stage of my life.
She asked me an open question “I would just like to know where and when did that start?.. Let’s explore the roots” Open questions provide space for the speaker to explore own thoughts and clarify own problems. (Bolton, 1987) During the counselling session Hand demonstrated key counselling skills such as active listening, reflective skills and empathy. Firstly, she applied active listening through attending and following skills which left an impression that she was fully interested in my story and encouraged me to talk openly about my issue. She applied attending skills through a posture of involvement by inclining her body towards me. An appropriate eye contact was also maintained throughout the session. Geldard & Geldard (2012) suggest that in counselling “what is required is an appropriate level of eye contact where your eyes meet with the other person’s eyes in a socially and culturally acceptable way”. (p. 48) Attending skills means giving a physical attention to the speaker or, as Bolton (1987) refers to it, “listening with the whole body” (p.33)
Furthermore, Hand demonstrated following skills by using minimal responses such as ‘Mm-hmm’, ‘Ok’ and ‘Yes’ which gave me reaffirmation that she was listening while I was talking continuously. Another following skill that the counsellor applied was the appropriate use of open and closed questions. Closed question are used when a specific answer or specific information is required (Geldard & Geldard, 2012). For example the counsellor asked me closed questions such as “How old were you when you noticed this problem” which made me try to remember the very early stages of my problem. On the other hand she used open question such as “When did your worries about your health increase again?”. The answer to this question revealed some new information. I stated that my worries about my health rose very soon after I moved to Australia. Geldard & Geldard (2012) suggest that in counselling, open questions encourage the person to be creative and share new information. Secondly, Hand demonstrated some reflecting skills which complemented the active listening skills and I had an impression that she was listening carefully and understood what I was saying.
I said: “I remember I have had this problem since I was very young. I was always worried about my health. At some stage of my life, I think during primary and high school I was not as bad..I would still be worried but it would not bother me as much” and her response was “you obviously had it for as long as you remember and during primary and high school it was still present but it was not as intense”. Paraphrasing is one way of ‘being with the person’, listening to what is said and then reflecting the most important details back to the person and clarifying those for them (Crago & Gardner, 2012). Moreover, the counsellor also applied reflection of feelings. By her application of this skill I had a feeling that she was in touch with the way I was feeling emotionally. “I constantly check my heart rate, or look at myself in the morrow to check if I am pale” I said, and she responded “You are worried”. Thirdly, the counsellor also demonstrated empathy. The use of empathy is very important in counselling as it facilitates building a working relationship where the client feels safe and carried for or looked after (Hackney & Cormier, 2009). I stated that it feels terrible being me.
The thought of having some serious heart disease or cancer does not let me live my life like a normal person. It is always there in my mind and I cannot enjoy doing anything. She was listening to me without interrupting me and then responded: “It sounds like you are overwhelmed by these thoughts and that this issue is affecting your life a lot.” “Exactly! It is affecting my life so much!” I said. For the first time in my life I had a feeling that someone had understanding of what I was experiencing. Rogers (1957) argues that empathy in counselling can be used as a mode of experiencing. That means that the counsellor should be able to perceive the experience of a person without losing the condition as if the counsellor were the person seeking help (as cited in Clark, 2007). Hend closed the session by giving a brief summary of the most important details discussed during the session and asked if I had any questions. Hackney & Cormier (2009) noted that at the end of a counselling session, the counsellor needs to spend some time to tie the most important information into a precise and objective summary.
I have never spoken to any of my close friend regarding this issue because I have been embarrassed and thought that they would think that I am crazy. On the other hand, whenever I tried to speak in front of my family members about what I was going through their response would be that I have had tests done and that everything is ok with me so I should not be worrying about it. Nobody has ever asked me how I was feeling or how was that issue affecting my life. During the counselling session, I felt that for first time in my life someone gave importance to my problem and was interested to hear how I was feeling without judging me and giving unnecessary advices. Geldard & Geldard (2012) suggest that wherever possible and appropriate, the counsellor, while actively listening also needs to indicate understanding and support so that the person feels “as though the counsellor has joined with them and is walking alongside them in their exploration” (p. 19). Also the counselling session has helped me to have better understanding of my issue.
I discovered that the increase of the anxiety about my health is related to some major changes that have occurred in my life. For example moving from one to another city to live, later moving from my home country to Australia, death event in my family and similar. Hence the anxiety about my health is related to my stress level. Rogers proposes that in counselling, the development, grow and change occur because of the way the counsellor was with the person needing help rather than what the counsellor did to the person. All that the counsellors do is helping the clients to have clearer understanding of their problem. The counsellors need to create conditions under which the process of self-discovery, self-confrontation and self-acceptance may occur (Crago & Gardner, 2012).
In summary, the experiences that I have gained during the counselling session have been very useful. I experienced what is like to be a person needing help and how it feels to receive professional counselling. At the same time I had an opportunity to get an idea of what the skills that I have been studying look like when used in practice. After completing this assignment I have a clear vision of what counselling really is and what is involved in the process of counselling.