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I've Never Seen an Addictions Counsellor Before...What Should I Expect?

If you've never seen an addictions counsellor before, here's what you can expect.

Counselling definitely isn't what you see in the movies - for starters, you don't have to lie down on a couch and talk about your mother while you cry uncontrollably (unless you want to, which is also totally fine!) Counselling is a collaboration between you and your counsellor, and the ultimate aim is for you to understand yourself better so you have choice about anything you'd like to change in your life. You're unique, so there's no particular way to "do" just sit together and talk things through in a way that is useful for you.

Different counsellors, different training, different styles

Different practitioners have different training backgrounds and ways of working, as well as styles. Even two counsellors trained in the same modality will have a different style and approach. The best way to know whether a counsellor will be a good fit for you is by asking them questions and getting a feel for how they work. Tell them what you’re coming to counselling to work on, and ask if they‘ve worked with other people who have similar experiences. It’s your session - ask whatever you need to ask! A good counsellor will be able to answer your questions and if they can’t, they should be open to referring you to someone who will be a better fit for you.

What you can expect from your addictions counsellor

There are minimum standards you can expect from a counsellor. Firstly, that everything you discuss is kept confidential and your details are stored securely in a lockable filing cabinet or appropriate computer software. The only time a health care professional is required by law to breach your confidentiality is if they are very concerned about your safety, or the safety of someone else (including children in your care). This is called mandatory reporting, and you can ask your counsellor to explain it to you further.

You can also expect that your counsellor will keep good time, making sure they are ready for you at your appointment time and ensuring you leave on time. Occassionally your counsellor may be running late or need to cancel an appointment due to illness, so they should have a procedure to inform you in a timely way. For example, I don't use text often, but I do let my new clients know that if I can't reach them by phone, I will send them a text asking them to contact me if I am sick and unable to make our appointment.

Most importantly, you can expect your counsellor will be willing to discuss anything that emerges in counselling in an open and respectful way, and do their best to ensure you feel safe and listened to. Of course, counsellors are human - there may be times where you think they didn't quite get something right or missed something - but a good counsellor will be able to openly discuss this with you when you raise it.

What your addictions counsellor will expect from you

Your counsellor will take you through their policies in your first session, including what to do if you need to reschedule or cancel. All the usual stuff applies - that you arrive on time and let your counsellor know with enough notice if you can't make it. Depending on the counsellor's training, they may also require you to attend a certain number of sessions to ensure you get what you want from the experience, and they may ask you to keep the same appointment day and time each week for consistency. These are all things to ask when you first meet, to ensure your counsellor is the right fit for you.

There may also be specific requirements for clients - for example, my clients know that if they arrive for counselling and have used drugs or alcohol in the past 12 hours, I can't see them for their session. This is to ensure they are getting the most out of their session - counselling really isn't effective if you're intoxicated or hungover!

If you're ready to see an addictions counsellor, here's a checklist for what to do next

1. Make a list of the things you'd like to know before you contact a counsellor. You can ask if they have worked with clients who have similar experiences to yours, what their approach to counselling is, and what you might talk about in sessions.

2. Ask friends, family or someone trusted if they have any recommendations for counsellors. If not, you can find counsellors via PACFA or Australia Counselling (in Australia). Find a few people who you think might be a good match - have different options.

3. Call or email to book a short phone discussion so you can ask your questions before booking. Remember that counsellors spend lots of their time in session, so they may not answer - be prepared to leave a message.

4. After a phone discussion, make an appointment and see whether the counsellor will be the right fit for you. If not, book another from your list and be prepared to try a few - good things can take a little bit of time!

Counselling is a wonderful, worthwhile investment in yourself and your addiction recovery - I hope this post has helped orientate you to the process a bit more. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me and I'd be happy to answer any questions you have.

Until next time,



The content of this blog is based on our counsellors' academic and clinical experience, but does not constitute therapeutic advice. This blog is intended as general information about counselling, psychotherapy, addictions and mental health issues only. For specific treatment related to you or someone you know, please contact us here to discuss your needs.


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