How to do a counselling session

Overview: Counselling is one of the core wellbeing services offered at Flinders. In this post, I look at how to get the most from the counselling process. Reading time ~ 9 minutes.

All Flinders students have access to counselling support as part of their enrolment.

The counselling service is there to support students whose study experience is being derailed in some way by academic or personal issues.

Academic issues include things like time management, procrastination and motivation. Personal issues include things like relationship problems, mental health issues, and personal crises.

Contacting the counselling service is as easy as completing an online form (if you haven’t seen us before) or calling 8201 2118 to book another appointment (if you are already a client and seeing someone).

For new clients, the first contact from us will come from one of our Duty/Intake workers. via phone. They aim to get back to students within 1-3 days of receiving the form. During quiet times, they will respond very quickly. During busy times, it may take them a day or two.

They’ll talk to you about your issue, provide initial support and guidance, make referrals if appropriate and book you in for further counselling appointments if you both feel it is needed.

Many students find this initial chat sufficient. Sometimes just having someone hear our problem and provide some simple guidance is all we need to get ourselves back on track or calm ourselves down enough to consider solutions.

However many wish to have further counselling support and that is OK. Some problems require more analysis and consideration than just that initial contact.

If that is the case, you will get booked in for a 50 minute session with someone from the counselling team. Depending on your location and any restrictions in place at the time, that appointment will either be face-to-face at the Bedford Park health centre or via telephone/teleconference (e.g. Skype). The option of telehealth appointments means that students who don’t study at Bedford Park can still get counselling support.

Although it might seem that getting the most out of a counselling appointment is really just about rocking up and talking, there are some things you can do to make the most of the opportunity. We’ve covered a few below and linked to some other articles that might help you think about your counselling experience.

Tips for getting most out of a counselling appointment

Confirm your attendance – you’ll get a reminder SMS in the lead-up to your appointment asking you to confirm or cancel. It is really useful for us if you do this, as it helps us allocate any free slots to other students who are waiting. Please let us know if you can’t attend.

Show up – sounds obvious, but sometimes students might be nervous or ashamed or forget in the context of everything that is going on for them. Showing up for the session is a strong signal to yourself that you are committed to finding a solution to your problem. It might be a bit nerve-wracking, but it is worth it.

Open up – we’re very mindful that it can take a while to build trust with and open up to a complete stranger, but the more you are able to open up about what is going on for you, the easier it will be for the counsellor to tune into your situation. If you aren’t really sure what is going on for you (but you just don’t feel right), be honest about that. The counsellor can then ask some questions to help you find some clarity.

It is ok if some strong emotions show up – when opening up about something difficult in our lives, strong emotions (e.g. sadness, anger, frustration, grief, fear, anxiety, regret) can show up. Whilst it can be unpleasant, there is nothing to be ashamed about if it happens. In fact, the presence of strong emotions usually signals that you are indeed talking about the most pertinent and important issues. Counsellors are very used to sitting with people who are experiencing strong emotions, so you will not be judged negatively.

Take notes – you don’t need to take reams of notes, but we know that people don’t necessarily remember all of the advice or suggestions from a counselling session. Before leaving the session, write down just a few things (e.g. 5) that you’d like to remember from the session.

Counselling is problem solving focused – you will be given time and opportunity to have a vent and express your feelings but also expect your counsellor to encourage you to start generating some potential solutions and actions you can take. They may ask about your goals and what steps you could take to move towards those goals. If you get a chance to think about your goals before the session, it can be helpful. If a counsellor thinks that you could benefit from a longer-term model of therapy, they will discuss the options with you.

Yes, there might be homework – people sometimes think that all the ‘work’ of counselling is done in the session itself. But actually, it is what people take from the session and action in their lives that yields much of the benefit. With this in mind, expect your counsellors to make suggestions for what you could do/try/action between sessions. Where possible, try to follow through with homework exercises, even if you aren’t feeling very motivated to do so.

Bring notes with you – in the lead-up to a counselling appointment, you might think about a whole bunch of things that you want to talk about. But sometimes we forget to actually talk about those things in the appointment. It can help to write down what you want to talk about and bring that list with you to the appointment. Like a shopping list but topics for conversation!

Be open to new perspectives and ideas – one of the reasons people seek counselling is they are stuck in certain ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. To break those patterns we need to entertain different ways of thinking and acting. We might be hesitant at first, but try to keep an open mind about suggestions given during the counselling session. It can be difficult to break old patterns, but the rewards can be significant.


Tips specific to telehealth appointments

Telehealth appointments do feel different to face-to-face appointments but research shows they can be just as therapeutic.

We actually wrote an article on some additional tips on how to get the most out of telehealth appointments.

There is no reason why a telehealth appointment needs to be any less helpful than a more traditional face-to-face one.


What if I am in crisis outside of my normal appointment times?

When we are going through difficult times, it is normal to have periods of high emotionality.

We have a few recommendations for managing these times.

First, if it is an emergency, call 000 or present to the nearest emergency department.

If it isn’t an emergency, consider the following:

First, consider reading our ‘Self-care during difficult times‘ sheet. It outlines some basic self-care methods for use when we are overwhelmed.

Second, consider putting together a ‘Coping Plan‘ and enacting it when feeling at your limit.

Third, think about who is in your social support network and whether you could make contact with any of them.

Fourth, book an appointment with a counsellor. Even just setting aside that future time to talk can actually be calming in the moment.

If if is out-of-hours, consider utilising our Out Of Hours Crisis Line


Other relevant resources

Perhaps you feel like doing some more reading in the area of getting counselling. We’ll add some of our favourite readings on the topic of counselling here over time.

Finding the right therapist –

Ten ways to get the most out of counselling




Posted in
'How to' series

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