How Can Counselling Help Me? It’s a good question!
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Greg Savva, Masters Degree, UKCP, Counselling in Twickenham & Whitton
26th January, 20140 Comments
How can counselling help? It’s a good question. And a legitimate one. Why else would you seek help from a trained professional? Or invest time and money in a therapeutic process? Counselling is a talking therapy which is there to support you while you give voice to your fears, hopes and anxieties.
You can choose from individual counselling or couples counselling. Couples counselling focuses on building relationships, improving communication, resolving conflict and repairing intimacy. Individual counselling focuses on the issues that are unique to yourself. It enables you to talk openly through your issues with a caring and supportive, but uninvolved professional, where other sources of support, such as family or friends are too close to be neutral or may be part of the problem. As such, you may find it helpful to talk to an experienced counsellor in a confidential setting, without fear of being judged. That is not to say that counselling replaces family and friends. And it can also involve a certain degree of challenge. This is a necessary part of the process. So how can it help?
The counsellor will provide you with an opportunity to:
make sense of what is happening to you
identify the cause of particular problems
explore my thoughts and feelings
enable a greater sense of self-awareness and insight
explore destructive patterns of behaviour
help you look at the alternative options and make better choices
help you decide on the best course of action
Acceptance and respect for each individual is a vital part of the process. It means that you can be confident that you will not be judged and a relationship based on mutual trust is able to develop. The aim of counselling is to encourage you to find your own solutions. It is not about giving advice or instruction. As a counsellor, I believe taking care of our mind is the single most important task of our existence. Our very survival depends on it.
In the modern world we receive medical treatment for diseases, physical ailments and injured limbs. We can even replace damaged organs with reconstructive surgery. However, with the exception of mental health professionals the mind remains a mystery to most people. Events of the mind are invisible and unavailable to science through the normal methods of observation. According to recent advances in neuroscience the brain is constantly evolving throughout our lives.
The human mind is a beautiful thing: able to bring us moments of pleasure, joy and inspiration. But it's also fragile, subject to emotional upheaval and mental illness. Sometimes it can be a place of deep unhappiness and pain. Embedded in the structures of our neural network, the functions of the mind go unnoticed. We are only aware of it, because we experience the world through our sensory perceptions, storing memories and making sense of our lives through thought processes. Yet the mind is a region of profound mystery where we feel intense emotions, understand each other and generate thoughts. It is the place where we make sense of our own identity. The mind does all of this and yet how well do we look after it?
The most essential benefit of counselling is in providing a safe, confidential space where you can explore your psychological and emotional issues without prejudice. A chance to build a relationship with a counsellor you can trust to support you. Counselling should help you gain insight into why you’re suffering from problems such as anxiety or depression; or help you heal the wounds of a personal trauma. It can help you learn how to communicate better in relationships; and managing conflict with confidence; or simply discover how to live a more meaningful life. No question is too much, or too trivial.
It is vital that you choose a counsellor who is warm, open and easy to talk to. It is also essential that your counsellor is well-qualified. For example, there’s a big difference in experience between counsellors with undergraduate diplomas and those with a Masters Degree or PhD. There is also a difference between counsellors who are registered and those who are fully accredited members of professional associations such as the UKCP or BACP. It is also important your counsellor is affordable and within your budget. So make sure you know what to expect from counselling session and the counsellor themselves by reading the answers to the questions below, because you deserve the best quality counselling you can get:
What is counselling?
Counselling is a therapeutic relationship between you and a trained professional which helps you understand the underlying causes and solutions to your problems. It is not advice or a ‘quick fix’. And so it can take time to develop a partnership with your counsellor to help you find different ways of coping with and dealing with your emotional difficulties and relationships.
How can counselling help me?
Counselling can help you to identify the causes and patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving which have created your difficulties. It helps you explore the conscious and unconscious motivations behind unwanted feelings and behaviours; as well as making sense of those you are already aware of. It can help you regain self-acceptance and confidence where your expectations have become unrealistic or difficult to maintain and find alternative ways of dealing with life's challenges. It can help you to heal the wounds of a trauma or personal crisis. A counsellor should be supportive, empathic and gently challenging, while remaining non-judgemental to help you find methods of coping a clear way forward. It is not about blaming, punishing or labelling people with ‘dysfunctional’ attitudes. Counselling can also help you with a number of coping strategies or dedicated techniques, which you will find effective in problem-solving and gaining independence.
What happens in a counselling session?
This varies according to the type of counselling you have, but normally the counsellor will try to explore your background difficulties, what caused you to seek help, clarify the boundaries of counselling and ask you what you expect to gain from the work. It is a collaborative relationship which enables you work together on resolving the issues and empower you, rather than providing ‘ready-made’ solutions. Each session tends to build on others by getting deeper into the issues and encouraging you to take more and more lead in the process as you gain confidence, rather than making you feel dependent or reducing your choices. There is sometimes a myth that counselling will open you up, leaving you feel exposed and vulnerable. This could not be further from the truth. Counselling can be challenging and does lead you ask deeper questions of yourself, but in bringing about a deeper awareness, it helps you to manage your emotions, rather than feel overwhelmed or ignore them until you cannot cope any more.
What questions should I ask before choosing a counsellor?
Take some time to do the research. Check out counsellors nearby and then read their websites and this directory. Email or phone the counsellors to get a sense of what it is like to talk to them and whether you feel comfortable – are they friendly and easy to talk to? Do you feel safe? Check out the counsellor’s qualifications and years of training. Are they registered or accredited members of professional organisations? What fees do they charge and are they affordable?
What qualities should I look for in a counsellor?
A sound working partnership based on mutual respect.
A feeling of trust, safety and rapport
A sense of being understood and accepted by the counsellor.
A willingness to collaborate and negotiate
Empathy and compassion from the counsellor.
A sense that you are making progress
The counsellor seems grounded and robust
Can I just go to counselling for a specific problem?
Yes, you can always focus on one particular area. It is important that you feel in control of the process, however, it is also a collaborative partnership. The counsellor is an expert in his field, but not an expert on you. Counselling takes a holistic approach recognising that our emotions, thoughts, behaviours and relationships are interconnected and not compartmentalised. Try to bear in mind that there may be other areas of your life that are affected by the problems you present to the counsellor. This is not about the counsellor digging around for further problems or implanting issues that weren’t there; it is about exploring areas you may not have considered or been too afraid to acknowledge.
How long does counselling take?
The length and timing of counselling depends upon your needs and the severity of the issues you bring, but remember you are always in charge. Aim to agree to an open ended-contract. Everyone's circumstances are different so the counsellor will try to work with you to develop an appropriate contract, but remember counsellors are also running businesses so you may incur costs when you miss a session. If the counsellor has concerns that the number of sessions you ask for are not enough then he or she will discuss this with you early on and make recommendations, but it is your choice and a counsellor should be realistic and understand this, by having an open adult conversation with you.
- What happens if I decide to stop?
Ideally you will discuss this with the counsellor to see if the sessions can be improved, but you can always choose not to return. It is always best to inform the counsellor and even review the situation so that you don’t feel you haven’t given yourself a chance. For many people counselling can be a challenging process as you revisit difficult thoughts and emotions, but if you take a step back for an overview you should always have a sense of progress, as you develop self-awareness, healing and change. And sometimes when you least feel like seeing your counsellor, these may well be the times that you get the most benefit from the work.
About the author
I am an experienced counsellor at Counselling Twickenham, Enduring Mind. I've been profoundly affected by my work with other people as a psychotherapist, anthropologist and writer. I'm captivated by the interior lives of others and the cultures they live in. Please visit my website for resources on counselling, self-help tools and resources.
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