How can talking help?
“So, let’s get this right - I just sit here and talk and somehow I start to feel better?” This question has been the starting point for so many conversations about counselling, talking therapies and how they can possibly help. And the question makes sense to me. There’s something counterintuitive in talking to someone you barely know about your deepest fears, anxieties and regrets, about the all encompassing depression that stops you getting out of bed in the morning or the situations and circumstances that keep replaying in your mind. “Will talking about it not keep it in my head, surely better to forget it all, move past it, get over it? Raking through it all can't make it better, can it?” Experience tells me it does.
There are many theories about why talking therapies work and many models to choose from. Regardless of whether the work is focussed on identifying unhelpful patterns of thinking or behaviour, understanding how your past influences your present ways of relating, or helping you find what it means for you to be true to yourself, research shows that the most important factor in any counselling process is the therapeutic relationship between you and your counsellor.
It can often be the case that when you talk to partners, family members, friends and colleagues they have an opinion on what has happened or what should happen next. It may be that they feel sad or angry on your behalf, or they may simply be dealing with their own feelings about the way the same situation has impacted on them. They might also be concerned about how any decision you make might impact on them. It’s easy to understand how difficult it can be to separate out your own feelings and views and to really listen to someone when you are very close to them and to their situation.
A therapeutic relationship is a safe relationship where you feel accepted and are able to talk openly, say anything and know that you’ll be heard by someone who values you and who will see things from your point of view. A relationship where you won’t be judged for the things that you might even judge yourself for, with someone who can help you understand what makes you think and feel the way you do. Being able to talk about yourself, your feelings and fears in that kind of environment can help you understand yourself better. It can bring clarity about what is right for you and help you identify what you need to be able to move forward. You may gain a better understanding of why you’ve felt so anxious, what makes you always react in a particular way, or identify the stressors in your life that are affecting your health.
When you are able to talk through a situation from all sides, without the need to justify what you’ve done, rationalise your feelings or defend your way of thinking; you are free to express yourself fully. And when you are free to express yourself openly and honestly, without fear of judgement, well, the possibilities for change are endless.
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