what to expect from therapy/counselling

It can be scary going to see someone for support for the first time. If you're feeling unsure about what it's all about - that's normal - and headspace is here to help.

We’ve put together some of the common experiences people have in the first session, answered some frequently asked questions, and busted a few myths along the way.   

Remember getting support is a sign of strength and there’s no shame in reaching out. We all need help sometimes. 

Why might people go to counselling?

Counselling can be a great way to get support when you're going through tough times. It’s about having a yarn or chat with a professional about life’s twists and turns and what might help. 

Counselling can be useful for lots of things like when you’re feeling down, anxious, angry or stressed. Some people might go to counselling to help understand themselves better or to chat about what they want in life. And it can also be helpful for exploring what you’re doing well or want to do more of. It’s really up to you. The sessions focus on what you want and need. They are driven by you, what you want to talk about, and anything you need support with. It might be things like: 

  • relationship challenges – e.g., friends, family, romantic relationships
  • personal growth 
  • health
  • work or study 
  • emotional wellbeing 
  • stress, worries and feeling overwhelmed
  • grief and loss
  • gender and identity
  • alcohol and other drug use. 

Family involvement

At headspace, we believe that family and other caregivers – whether by birth, choice or circumstance have a significant role in supporting a young person. Studies show that when family is involved in someone’s care, it can really help. So wherever possible we include them in our services, always respecting what you're comfortable with and focusing on what's best for you. All involvement of family at headspace is done with your privacy and confidentiality in mind

What to expect in the first counselling session

The first session is a great chance for you to ask questions and talk about what you want to work on. If you’ve been to counselling before, it might be useful to discuss what has and hasn’t worked. You can share what’s on your mind and see if they’re the right ‘fit’ for you. 


You deserve to feel safe, including culturally safe, respected, and heard when you’re getting support.  


Before starting your session your Mental Health Professional will tell you a bit about themselves and their role. They’ll also:

  • explain confidentiality and your rights
  • discuss how many sessions you might have together 
  • ask if there’s anything you need to support you in getting the most out of your work together.  


If your session is a family session, the Mental Health Professional will want to hear from everyone about what they would like to get from the time together. They’ll be interested in everyone’s view and will help you and your family figure out and work towards some shared goals. If you’re a young person having a family session at headspace, your needs and hopes will be the focus. 

Your Mental Health Professional is going to be interested in you and what’s led to you getting support. They’ll want to know about anything big that’s happened that sticks out to you, and the things that you might worry about. They’ll also ask what you do now to support yourself, what your strengths are, and about the positive things going on in your life. 

The questions help your Mental Health Professional understand your story, how you’ll work together, and what might help. It’s not just because they’re nosey!

Your Mental Health Professional may also be curious about your:

  • home life/where you live
  • family 
  • friendships and intimate relationships 
  • cultural influences
  • family's mental health history
  • work or studies 
  • alcohol and other drug use
  • as well as your strengths, interests and what you’re into 


It’s important to remember that if you don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable answering a question, you don’t have to. 
Your Mental Health Professional will also ask if you’re using self-harm or having any thoughts about suicide. 

Feeling nervous or unsure about your first session is completely normal. Lots of people feel this way when they meet someone for the first time. You might want to bring a trusted friend or family member along with you. 

It can help to have an idea of what you'd like to get out of counselling. It might be as simple as ‘I want to feel happier’ or ‘I'd like a plan for what to do next’. But don’t stress if you’re unsure about this, it’s something you and your Mental Health Professional can figure out together. 

You might have some questions for your Mental Health Professional too. You could ask what experience they’ve had helping people with challenges like yours, how long the sessions go for, and their qualifications. You could also ask about how your family will be involved in your care and how they’ll work with them.   

It's a good idea to write down your questions beforehand or have them in notes on your phone, because it's easy to forget them in the moment.

Your Mental Health Professional will work with you to ensure you have a sense of choice and control over who is included in your care, and who might be helpful. 


Keeping it confidential

You might be worried about your family or community finding out that you’re getting support. However, we want you to know that your confidentiality is important and health services have processes in place to protect it. What you share with your Mental Health Professional is confidential and is only shared with others (including family, friends, or a professional) if you are OK with that. You can work out if you think it would be helpful for you and decide what you are comfortable being shared.  
There are a few exceptions to confidentiality. Your Mental Health Professional will explain that if they’re worried or concerned about your safety or the safety of someone else then they’ll need to let someone know. In these cases, they’ll only provide necessary information to appropriate services or support people that can protect you or others, like a crisis service or the police. If this happens, they’ll try to talk to you first about what needs to happen and what extra support you need to help you be safe.   

Organisations like headspace are voluntary services. Our workers can only provide support if you say it’s OK (if you give consent). This is something we’ll ask you when you attend.  

You can generally make decisions on your own about your treatment but in some cases we might need a parent or legal guardian to give consent for you to access a particular service (e.g., if you’re under a certain age). If you want more information on this, please speak to a headspace worker. 

The privacy of your personal information is protected by law. At headspace, we make sure your information is managed according to all current privacy and information security legislation. This sets standards for the collection, access, storage and use of any information that’s collected about you. headspace also destroys, deletes or de-identifies this information when it’s no longer needed. 
If you’re on the same Medicare card as your family, you may be concerned about your privacy. You can find information about how to apply for your own Medicare card here

A mental health professional will make me talk about things before I’m ready

You are in charge of what you want to work on and talk about.   

A Mental Health Professional won't force you to talk about anything before you're ready. They understand that some topics might be difficult to talk about. Counselling is all about you and your needs, you get to decide what you want to share, who you want to share with, and when. Your Mental Health Professional should create a safe and supportive space for you to yarn or chat at your own pace.  
Sometimes though, it can be helpful to think about and talk about why you don’t want to discuss something. Is it because you don’t know them well enough, or is it because they’re hard things to talk about? 

You'll lie on a couch and talk about your childhood   

Counselling in Australia isn't like what you see on TV. You don’t have to lie on a couch and talk about your childhood. It's all about teamwork with your Mental Health Professional. Together, you'll explore what is going on for you, and find ways to tackle challenges. It might be about helping you do more of the things that already help rather than new things. You’ll most likely sit in a comfy chair, or maybe go for a walk together.  
Counselling is down-to-earth and helpful, and your counsellor is there to understand and guide you. No judgement, just support. 

Some counselling approaches may include:

  • involving family, Elders, and community members for support
  • expressing yourself through art or music therapy
  • ‘walk and talk' sessions in nature 
  • mindfulness practices, including spiritual and religious approaches
  • bringing cultural practices and beliefs into sessions. 


Your Mental Health Professional is good at deep listening, and you might find they can often help you listen to your own solutions, ones that were always there but you weren’t aware of before. 

My problems aren't serious enough for counselling 

Getting support when you need it is important. Don’t feel that you need a ‘big issue’ first. Your feelings and concerns are always important, no matter how big or small they feel. Counselling can also be about wanting things to be even better in your life rather than ‘fixing something’. The sessions are all about providing a safe space where you can talk openly. So if you want to work on your mental health and wellbeing, counselling is a great choice for you. Remember, getting help is a sign of strength, and it's OK to reach out for support.  

It can take time to find the right 'fit’ for you. Just like any other relationship you’re going to get along with some people better than others - so don’t worry if you don't connect with the first Mental Health Professional you talk with.

If you’ve just met them though, remember that building trust and feeling comfortable with a new person can take time. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit – let someone know – don't just ghost them. Let someone know and they’ll help you find someone new.

If you’re attending a headspace centre, they’ll do their best to accommodate you. However, in some instances this may take some time, but they’ll always have this conversation with you.

How to access a Mental Health Professional

Hopefully you have a GP you have a good relationship with that you can speak to about getting mental health support, but that might not always be the case. If not:

  • if you’re studying, then check out student services
  • if you have a family member or friend who’s had a good experience seeing someone, you could contact them
  • if you’re employed, they might have an Employee Assistance Program
  • you could check out head to health - a government website that provides a list of Australia’s most trusted mental health organisations. You can view which services are free or low cost
  • yarn to your Elders, or trusted people in your community.


headspace has many options, including in person at our Centres, and many online options like access to Mental Health Professionals, group chats (with professionals and peers), as well as work and study support. You can also create an account and build your own personalised space with online tools and resources.

No matter where you’re at on your mental health journey, support is available.

For more information or support, find your nearest headspace centre; or contact eheadspace, our phone and online service. 

The headspace Content Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.  

Last reviewed 30 October 2023

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