What To Expect From Free Counselling In The UK

I have never been ashamed to admit that I’ve needed counselling before. To be honest, I’d think it was pretty strange if someone was diagnosed with incurable chronic pain and didn’t feel depressed, or scared, or something along those lines.

I think I’d been diagnosed for about 6 months when I decided, with my GP, that I would benefit from counselling. I’d already been signed up for a waiting list for counselling at my local pain management clinic, but the waiting list was 6 months long and I didn’t like the travel to the clinic. Unfortunately, the wait for NHS counselling is just as long, but – luckily – different areas in the UK have different free counselling services available. To access these, you have to self refer, so all my GP had to do was give me a phone number and I could call myself to make an appointment. If you feel you need counselling, I would always advise that you go see your GP in the first instance to discuss the next steps and the best option for you.

I understand that calling a number and asking for help is probably pretty terrifying for most people, but I think being referred directly by your GP and then being called to book an appointment is also pretty scary too. The service is fast and free, so if the cost is that I had to ring myself.. Fine by me!

The particular centre I called is run completely by volunteers, who have trained in counselling in their spare time, and looks after my local town only, so you have to have a local GP, but I believe that’s their only criteria.

I made an initial appointment to go down to the centre to fill out a couple of forms and to see what would be the best kind of therapy for me. The first centre I actually went to was just an office in the town centre. It didn’t look like a GPs practice or a hospital. It was just a nice little cosy, quiet waiting room with a few breakout rooms that I could see the doors to and a friendly receptionist to greet me. I filled out a bit of paperwork on myself – a bit of personal information, my GP details, rating my mood, detailing the feelings I was having and I wrote a bit about my pain as well, as I thought it was important to get this out in the open right away so they would know whether I was suitable to see them – I’m aware I’m a bit of specialist case with my neuralgia! There was no one else there when I attended and I think that’s why they booked me in for a particular time slot – so that they can see each person individually, to make it less stressful.

My paperwork was taken away and assessed and around 15 minutes later, I was taken into a room with a lady who told me that I was suitable for counselling with them and I’d been seen at one of their centres just around the corner when they had an opening available. I picked the time slot that most suited me at the time due to my work schedule (after 7pm any week day evening) and was told I’d get a call back when something opened up.. and I received this call back only a few weeks later, offering me Tuesdays at 7pm for a 6 week course of counselling if I was available.

My counselling turned out to be in a church, after hours, and there was a gentleman waiting to let me in when I buzzed at the back door. My counseller was always waiting for me too. I won’t disclose too much about her, but she was a lady who worked in a professional environment, who just wanted to help people in her spare time. She came to our appointments straight from work, as did I. The centre offers appointments that will suit everyone. Obviously, if you don’t mind what day or time you’re seen, they could have you seen within a couple of weeks!

I won’t talk about what we discussed at counselling, as this is different for everyone and was personal to me, but at the start of every session, I had to fill out a form about my mood and feelings and then we talked for an hour, once a week. I was also given homework, things to work on, things to research. After just five weeks, I’d made some significant changes to my life and my mood had significantly improved. Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to! At the end of the assigned course (mine was 6 weeks), you are discharged and, if you need further help, you need to discuss the next steps with your GP.

I would recommend a local free counselling service to anyone who needs it. There is no shame in talking to someone about how you feel.

If you feel concerned about your mental health, or that you might benefit from counselling, please speak to your GP for first steps in this process ♡

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