How long does it take?
Short-term counselling, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can help a great deal in a very few sessions where a troubling event or loss has been recently experienced. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, such as may be available on the NHS in the UK, has been shown to be helpful in just 6-12 sessions, though in practice the time offered is likely to be determined by funding considerations rather than your need.
Change - lasting change that will endure stressful situations is not an overnight process. You should also allow for the fact that it takes a while to build trust so that you feel able to talk freely. You should be prepared for a process that is likely to take months, you may wish to continue longer. However, the journey itself can be enabling, joyful and liberating.
Why its important to find and pay for your own counselling?
Paying for counselling or therapy gives you a full, adult say in what you are getting. You won't need to wait, you can choose someone local, agree a convenient time, negotiate flexibility if you need it, decide when it should end and importantly you will really value every minute of the time. Counselling provided by your employer via an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can be a good option for a specific issue, however the number of sessions is often limited and you may not have much choice about who you see or the approach they offer. The same is true of counselling offered through specialist agencies. Charitable agencies are likely to offer you counsellors who are not registered/accredited to UKCP or BACP standards, or they may be in training to get there (though this need not be an issue as trainees often do great work).
How do I find a counsellor or therapist?
In the UK and elsewhere at the moment, anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist or counsellor, so for assurance of professional standards you should look for someone registered with the governing professional bodies of the country in which they trained. This will ensure the counsellor will have had considerable training typically a minimum of four years, they will abide by ethical standards and there will be a complaints procedure. Singaporean therapeutic societies generally accept members who qualify for membership of their professional bodies in the country in which they trained. In the UK these are the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Most professional bodies maintain lists of their members and contact details.
What else should I look for?
There are many different types of trainings and traditions and you may have one of these in mind. I believe it is important that the counsellor themselves has been through extensive counselling as part of their training. It's worth asking if they have. This ensures that they are able to reflect on their own reactions and emotions with a degree of awareness that serves to protect their clients from issues the counsellor may not have dealt with in their own lives. In addition, research suggests that you are more likely to benefit from the process if you relate well to your counsellor or therapist, regardless of their approach. Therefore talk to a prospective counsellor on the phone, and arrange a first meeting. Allow yourself to go with your 'gut instinct' when you first talk to them. Do you like this person? Do you trust them? Do you feel safe where they work? If the answer to any of these questions is "no", find someone else. Your heart may be a better guide than your head, but don't ignore either.
What will I have to do?
You need to commit to a session each week, usually at a regular time, and be prepared to talk about yourself for 50 minutes. In fact you don't always need to talk, but you will need the urge and the curiosity to understand yourself better, and some courage to face not just difficulties but also the possibility of change. You may be asked to observe rules like paying for sessions you miss: this is not just to protect the counsellor but also helps to ensure your commitment to the process. Motivation can wain when dealing with long standing patterns of behaviour so a financial incentive can help. Many therapists will offer some occasional flexibility but its worth remembering that they wont be able to use your missed hour for anything else.
What about my privacy?
What you tell your counselor is up to you. You are entitled to your privacy and should not be pushed to say more than you feel comfortable with. Sessions are confidential within the terms of the BACP or UKCP ethical framework.
How much does it cost?
In Singapore, fees can be anything up to SG$300 per session for a registered/accredited practitioner. You are likely to pay more for experience, specialist techniques, nice buildings and certain post-codes. This may seem a lot, but there are quite a few invisible€¯ overheads for the practitioner, involving both cost and time. If cost is a real issue for you, and you can't get (or wait for) free counselling through your employer or similar or you could search for local charitable agencies. You could also try to haggle a bit with the therapist of your choice. Many offer a couple of places at a reduced rate for those on low incomes. You shouldn't get a cut-price service and anyone who minds you asking wouldn't have been a good choice anyway!
If you have any more questions that it might be useful to answer here, please let me know.