Going to a Counsellor: What to Expect – Part I

Often the biggest difficulty to overcoming a problem is recognizing that one exists. With mental health issues, it can be even more difficult due to social or personal beliefs. You may be thinking that your symptoms won’t last or that they are a sign of personal weakness. These feelings can stop you from getting the help you need because you may feel embarrassed. Remind yourself that the most important thing is getting better—and this means getting help as early as possible.


Taking that first step

Your first step could be a visit to the on-campus counsellor if there is one available at your school. This initial meeting will typically last one hour, and will consist of a series of questions to help him or her understand what you are experiencing. It is normal to feel nervous at your appointment, especially since you will be sharing some of your most private thoughts and feelings. Remember, counsellors are health professionals; they will not be judging you. However, preparing yourself for that first meeting might be a little easier if you know what to expect. Below are some typical questions a counsellor might ask. Try to answer them as honestly as possible.

  1. What brings you here?This will likely be one of the first few questions you will be asked. If this answer is not clear in your head, that is okay. You can start with feelings that are concerning you (e.g., sad or angry all the time), or perhaps an experience that has really affected you. If it helps, you can write down your feelings in advance of the meeting and bring your notes with you to your appointment.
  2. Can you tell me more about that?Be prepared to talk. You will likely be asked for more detail… and more… and even more! Don’t be shy. A counsellor’s office is a safe space, so feel free to express yourself.
  3. When did these feelings begin?Think back to when you first noticed you were feeling different, and be sure to mention when you recognized that you started feeling worse.
  4. Did something happen before these feelings started?Sometimes symptoms occur suddenly and for no reason, while other times a life event might activate them. Examples include: the divorce of your parents, a painful breakup, physical or sexual abuse, a move to a new country, or financial difficulties.
  5. What effect have these feelings had on your life?Think back: Did your relationship with friends or family start to deteriorate when these feelings began? Has your schoolwork or job performance been affected?
  6. Have you been feeling down and depressed? What about hopeless or worthless?It can be upsetting to admit that you are feeling sad or that you don’t feel good about yourself. But don’t worry, your counsellor will be understanding of these feelings. Try not to keep negative feelings a secret during your chat.
  7. Have you stopped doing things you usually enjoy? Like what?Tell your counsellor if you have stopped taking part in any hobbies or social activities since your symptoms began. Also make sure to mention if you are spending less time doing the things you enjoy, or if you only take part in social activities if someone pushes you to.
  8. Have you been particularly worried lately? About what?You may be experiencing a period of high anxiety. Tell your counsellor what you have been worried about and if you are feeling more worried than usual.
  9. Do you feel suicidal or wish that you were never born?This is a very personal question that may make you feel uncomfortable to think about or admit to. It will only be asked if your symptoms have been present for a consistent period of time. Even if you’ve had suicidal thoughts only once, it is important that you share them with your counsellor.
  10. Have you done anything risky or gotten into trouble lately? What things have you been doing?You may fear being judged or getting into more trouble if you tell your counsellor the truth. Remember, your counsellor is not here to get angry with you—but to help! Everything you share with your counsellor will remain confidential*. Try to be as honest as you can.

Going to a counsellor is an important part of managing your mental health issue. Now that you know a little more about what to expect, you may feel more comfortable taking that first step. If you still have questions about this first meeting with a counsellor, don’t miss the second part of this series, “Going to a Counsellor: What to Expect – Part II.”

*The information you share with your counsellor will remain confidential unless you pose an immediate threat to yourself or someone else. Also, in Canada, it is mandatory that counsellors report child abuse (i.e., the abuse or neglect of an individual who is under the age of 16).


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(Last reviewed August 28, 2013)

  1. Informed Choices. (2013). What to expect during counseling or therapy. Retrieved from http://depression.informedchoices.ca/types-of-treatment/counseling-or-therapy/what-to-expect-during-counseling-or-therapy.


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