How it works

What is counselling?

Counselling is for anyone who wants to invest in improving their life.

Typical problems that people bring to counselling include low-mood, depression, feeling stuck or trapped, anxiety, stress, feeling unhappy at work, eating issues, over-doing drink, drugs, gambling or computers, relationship issues (work or personal), identity issues, family problems, bereavement, career uncertainty or dissatisfaction, life-stage issues (eg mid-life crisis, retirement), a sense of something being ‘not quite right’ or a desire for greater well-being or personal development.

Through listening to you and talking with you, the counsellor aims to facilitate your personal development. Counsellors rarely offer advice, but instead will work collaboratively with you to help you look at your situation with fresh eyes and experiment with new solutions.

Many people feel that their problems are not important enough to warrant counselling. Others worry that counselling may not help - or that they are in some way ‘abnormal’. In all cases, a trial initial appointment will enable you to explore what you can get from counselling  - and what you can’t.

What happens in the counselling room?

The counsellor will be curious about you and your life.

The counsellor will listen to you, ask questions and will want to create a trustworthy and supportive relationship with you. They will be keen to understand the world from your point of view.

The counsellor will also want to work in a way that suits you - that helps you get the most from the session and that means you feel in control of the work being done.

Typical questions could include:

How do you feel about that?

What do you need right now?

It sounds as if you might have a pattern of ....?

In the context of understanding you and your situation, the counsellor will then seek to collaborate with you to create experiments, options or windows of opportunity for you for doing things differently or approaching things differently in some way. The aim is that any changes you make fit with what you want to do and are in manageable steps.

To do this well takes a good knowledge of psychology on the part of the counsellor. It typically takes several years of training and on-the-job experience to qualify as a counsellor.

What happens in the initial sessions and how long does individual counselling last?

INITIAL SESSIONS. People usually do two initial sessions. Individual sessions are 50 minutes long. These initial sessions are an opportunity for the counsellor and client to get to know each other and to explore whether they are likely to work together well.

Typically, the counsellor will also want to ask a set of questions about your background (eg family history, previous counselling and so on). There should also be an opportunity to ask the counsellor about their qualifications and experience, about how they work as a counsellor and to say something about what brings you to counselling. You can pay for the initial session/s on the day by cash or cheque.

SESSIONS 3-8. At the end of the initial session/s, the counsellor and you will decide whether you will continue together or not. You may then book a series (eg 3-6) more sessions, at the same time each week, for more in-depth exploration of your problem/s and your situation. Many people get a lot of value from these few sessions - and some people stop at the end of these sessions.

SESSIONS 9-20. Often, people will then book a series of further sessions to work through the issue/s they have identified in a structured way. Scientific research shows that a significant number of people experience improvement in 10-20 sessions in total - and stop after this.

20+ SESSIONS. Some people choose to have more counselling than 20 sessions - and it is not uncommon for some people to invest in counselling for a year or longer or to have an ‘open ended’ contract that lasts several years.

Does it work?

“There is unequivocal evidence that, on average, psychological therapies have a positive effect on people’s mental health and well-being,” says Mick Cooper, professor of counselling research at the University of Strathclyde. And further scientific evidence shows that just under 8 out of 10 individuals who participate in counselling, improve more than someone who does not.

However, it should be noted some people will not benefit from counselling and some people will be better served with a referral to a specialist or to another counsellor or psychotherapist outside Cambridge Counselling Service.

How much does it cost and how do I pay?

Sessions typically happen weekly at the same time each week and last 50 minutes each. Most clients pay by cash or cheque at the session (we do not take payment cards).

Each individual needs to weigh up this investment against the potential current value and potential future value of counselling to them across their lifetime, in terms of improved well being, mental health and personal development.

Details of the terms and conditions of counselling can be given to you during the initial session.

Useful links:

A workplace counselling service, for organisations who want to fund counselling for their employees:

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy:

The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy:

For listings of other counsellors in Cambridge:

For reduced-fee counselling in Cambridge: (service for young people)

For Anger Management:

For a counselling service:

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Mark Gawlinski, CCS, 25-27 High Street, Chesterton, Cambridge, CB4 1ND.

Tel: 01223 261 061 E-mail: