You’ve got this: 10 tips to overcome nerves about seeing a counsellor about alcohol or drugs

At Counselling Online we often hear from people who are ambivalent or nervous about seeing a face-to-face counsellor for the first time. It’s actually something we hear all the time — from a little apprehension to full-on freaking out.

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How can you overcome your nerves about seeing an alcohol and other drugs counsellor for the first time?
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People are often in two minds about seeing a face-to-face counsellor to help them change their alcohol and/or other drug use. They want to and they don’t want to. ‘Maybe it will help,’ they think, ‘but I’d rather manage this on my own.’

The thing is, though, most people have already been struggling ‘on their own’ for years. It’s lonely and difficult — and unnecessary. Like a lot of tasks and responsibilities, changing your relationship with drugs and alcohol can be easier if you’ve got someone to help you out.

Feelings of nervousness and uncertainty are totally normal and natural, but it’s self-sabotage to let them stop you from getting help to take control of your drinking or drug use. You might have practical questions or concerns about seeing a counsellor — check out our counsellor Shannon’s responses to some common concerns on our peer support forums.

Once you’ve made the decision to see a counsellor, it can still be scary. So:

How can you overcome your nerves about seeing an alcohol and other drugs counsellor for the first time?

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1. Remind yourself: The counsellor is there to help you
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1. Remind yourself: The counsellor is there to help you

Counselling Online counsellors have all kinds of backgrounds and are all kinds of people, but if there’s one constant, it’s that they want to help.

The counsellor isn’t judging you. They chose this job. They think it’s so important for people to have help to manage their problems they have engaged in learning and undertaken significant training to be able to better help you as you are seeking support. They would never judge somebody for having the courage and good judgment to accept help.

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2. Remind yourself: You’re not alone
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2. Remind yourself: You’re not alone

Our counsellors spend most of their time talking to people who are dealing with problems related to drugs and alcohol. Whatever you tell them, they’re unlikely to find it shocking, because there are people all over Australia experiencing difficult times just like you are. The counsellors are not scandalised or disapproving. They just want to help you find solutions.

Think about it — you wouldn’t expect a doctor to be astonished if someone came in with help for a chronic stomach ache, in fact it would be a pretty regular part of the Doc’s day. It’s the same for Counselling Online counsellors. Helping people with problems related to drugs and alcohol is what they do all day.

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3. Write down a plan
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3. Write down a plan

Think about what you want to achieve in the session and write it down. It doesn’t have to be a detailed outline of your future steps — set some simple, achievable goals so you have the satisfaction of ticking something off your to do list. For example:

It’s good to have a plan to centre yourself going into the session, even if you don’t stick completely to the plan.

  • Ask the counsellor about ways to set limits to my drinking.
  • Tell the counsellor about the problems drinking is causing in my life.
  • Figure out how to avoid going to the pub this week.
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4. Give yourself time to prepare and reflect
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4. Give yourself time to prepare and reflect

Block out some time before and after the session so you arrive in a calm state and can have some thinking time afterwards. For a lot of people, it can feel like the first session flies by, so you might want to bring some paper and a pen to write down what happened to help you remember — it’s great to do this right away, even if your thoughts come out completely jumbled.

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5. Be ready to talk about yourself
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5. Be ready to talk about yourself

The counsellor will want to get to know you, so they’ll usually have some of their own questions — what’s going on in your life, how you’ve managed other issues, even things like your family history. There are no ‘right answers’ to these questions. They just want to get as much information as possible so they can understand your position and help you find your strengths and solutions.

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6. Manage your expectations
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6. Manage your expectations

You’re not going to go to a single session and find yourself completely ‘fixed’. Nobody is expecting you to have a magical breakthrough and feel completely capable of not drinking after a single session, especially not the counsellor. They’re prepared to work on this journey with you over time, and you should be prepared for that too.

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7. Counsellors are different — find one that suits you
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7. Counsellors are different — find one that suits you

Counsellors have different styles of working. This counsellor might not be the right fit for you, and that’s totally fine. If you see a counsellor a few times and l don’t feel you are making progress, talk it over with them if you are able, and if necessary move to a new counsellor.

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8. It bears repeating: The counsellor is there to help you
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8. It bears repeating: The counsellor is there to help you

If you ever feel your confidence start to wane, remember: the counsellor is there to help you. They’re not judging you. They want to work with you on the good days and the bad days.

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9. Counselling Online will still be here for you
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9. Counselling Online will still be here for you

Seeing a face-to-face counsellor doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to Counselling Online anymore. Between sessions or if you ever need to talk to somebody right away, we’re still here for you — chat to us online or jump onto our peer support forums. We’re here to help you surf an urge, let you vent on a bad day, or celebrate a good day.

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10. Remember: Research (and experience) shows that you can do this
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10. Remember: Research (and experience) shows that you can do this

Research shows that difficulties with drugs and alcohol are not permanent — and your chances of overcoming the problem improve if you seek professional help to take steps to recover. Counsellors can take many roles — teacher, mentor, trusted confidante — to help you reach your goal. We know that you can do this because we’ve seen it. We want you to know it too.

If you’re getting ready to see a counsellor for the first time, good luck! Let us know how it goes.

Note: This blog has been modified from a piece that originally appeared on Gambling Help Online.

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What can I do next?
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What can I do next?