How is the session structured?
Besides giving attention to structuring the initial session the counselor should establish a long term counseling relationship as well. The first session should address the specific issues of the client and counselor roles, client goals and the confidentiality of the relationship. After listening to the client as to what is expected, the counselor reacts to them. The interview can then proceed with a topic of the client’s choosing.
The counselor must deal with time limits as part of the structuring process. The length of the interview will depend on the age of the client and the setting. For example, an interview with a child between five and seven would be approximately twenty minutes long, between eight and twelve, approximately a half hour long and for twelve and above, approximately an hour. However, in a school setting the length of the interview will probably depend on the length of a class period.
It is important that the counselor state at the beginning of the session how long the interview will be. Clients need to understand how much time is available so that they can pace themselves accordingly and raise relevant personal material early enough during the session to allow discussion. When time limits are not specified these clients will usually hold on to a particularly painful concern until just before the end of the interview. This could prove quite manipulative. To prevent this situation the counselor would tell the client toward the end of the session how much time is left. This will give the client an opportunity to raise any unfinished business before time runs out. This could explain why the counselor would always check the clock during a session doing so with the client’s needs at heart.
The duration of the counseling relationship should also be discussed in the initial interview but a decision will usually be made after one or two sessions.
How to open the session?
After the initial introductions, the counselor would want to spend a few minutes in social conversation to relieve any tension and anxiety the client is experiencing. The counselor should also be wary of not spending too much time in this casual mode. A factor that determines how the counselor opens the session is whether the client is self-referred or has been referred to counseling by another party. When it is a self-referral client, the counselor could begin the session with any one of the following.
“We have about a half hour to talk and I’m wondering what brings you to counseling.”
“We have an hour and I’d be interested in listening to anything you would like to share.”
“I thought we might begin today by telling me about your expectations for counseling. We have an hour to talk.”
“How would you like to spend our time today? We have about forty-five minutes.”
These examples are structured in terms of time limits. Each statement also communicates the client’s responsibility to use the time in the most meaningful way.
When clients come to counseling at the insistence of a third party it is usually done by teachers, parents and the courts who feel they need a therapist for psychological counseling. These clients are frequently more anxious and resistant to the process and the counselor should give careful thought and planning to the structure of the session.
Irrespective of the reason for why the client is there, the counselor must come across as warm and accepting. The counselor should therefore discuss the reasons for the referral but the client should not feel judged and should be allowed to choose the topic for the interview. The counselor should then be careful not to allow preconceived notions of the problem to interfere with the response to the client’s needs.
Goals to be achieved during the first session
The primary goal of the first session is to establish rapport. It should stimulate open, honest and full communication about the needs to be discussed and any other factors and background related to those concerns. The problem will be identified for subsequent attention and work. This can only be achieved if all the necessary information of the client is acquired.
Termination of the initial interview
During this stage the client and counselor must make a decision regarding the continuation of the relationship. The counselor must also decide whether or not to refer the client to another counselor or agency. This also requires some skill as a great deal of competency is needed to identify situations that require specialized services.