Question: ‘Can You Help Me?’
The number one question I get asked is, “Can you help me?” It’s a fair enough question too; you can be unsure about what you’re getting into, and successful counselling or psychotherapy takes a commitment of time and money. Understandably, you want to have some sense this process is going to take you where you want to be. In this short post, let me tell you how I answer this question.
Usually, a person like you rings me up or contacts me by email. At that point, neither of us know if I can be of help – it’s a shot in the dark. Although you may have read my website and found out quite a lot about me and how I approach problems, you can still be a little afraid that I won’t be able help you. You might be concerned that I don’t have any free appointment times, that I’ve never encountered your problem before, your problem isn’t serious enough, or, commonly, you can feel you are just too weird to be helped by me. Understandably, there can be quite a bit of hesitation about initially making contact.
Let's talk a little
The first step is for us to converse a little either on the phone or by email. Commonly, you outline a little bit about what’s wrong and ask me if I’ve had much experience working with that particular problem. I try to answer this question is straightforwardly as I can. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients; chances are that I have worked with somebody who experienced similar things to what you’re going through. In other cases, I may well have worked with a similar problem to what you’re experiencing, even though it might manifest differently.
However, for some people this initial conversation is enough for them to know that they don’t want to work with me. In that case, I can suggest other people they might want to contact. Further, on some occasions I come to a conclusion that I’m not the right person either, and in this case I can suggest someone else who might be a better fit.
An initial consultation
If in our conversation we both come away thinking that I can help, then we will arrange an initial consultation. This is an opportunity for you and I to sit down together in my rooms for 45 minutes to really nut out if we can usefully work together. I don’t charge for initial consultations. In this initial consultation, it’s helpful to both of us for you to talk about the nature of the problem and some of the history behind it. You probably also have some questions for me which I’m happy to answer. Lastly, I outline some of the administrative arrangements that would apply to us. However, the most important thing about this initial consultation is that we actually meet.
I can’t overstate how useful this initial face-to-face meeting is. It can give people a good feeling about working with me, and a feeling of hope that they will be able to get through what’s going on. Some people come away feeling confidence that they are actually starting to work on the problems. Naturally, in this initial consultation we also spend more time addressing the question, ‘Can I help you?’
When we're not sure
Sometimes, we can come away from the initial consultation with you not being completely sure about whether I can be of help. We have a couple of different options then. Firstly, you might want to go away and think about it and then come back to me with your decision. I usually don’t recommend this, as I think things just get more confused rather than clearer – I think it’s better to go with your gut. Secondly, if we both feel a high degree of confidence that we can make progress together, we can choose to undertake a limited number of sessions – typically three – and then review our progress after this.
The right direction
It’s only at this point, after we are both pretty sure that I can help, that we make an agreement to go on to start working together. If we can’t come to that agreement – either you feel that someone else would be better to work with or, uncommonly, I think someone else would be a better fit – there is no obligation to take things further and I am quite happy to recommend an experienced colleague to you. The emphasis is on you getting the help you need, whether it’s me that provides that help or not.
– Tim Hill
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