How Counselling or Psychotherapy can Help
For many who have never tried it before, deciding to try counselling or psychotherapy is a huge step. But there may come a time when, for all kinds of reasons, you know you have reached your limit. It might be generalised anxiety or boredom; relationship, family or work problems; depression, unresolved issues from the past or post traumatic stress. It feels like you have reached a closed door. Your way forward is blocked, and despite your tried and tested ways of managing life and its pressures, you reluctantly accept you need something else to shine a light on what is blocking you, and provide the key to opening the door.
Most of us keep some intimacy in reserve even from those we are closest to. But even those of us who depend on our friends may eventually find we can't go to them. What's the difference between counselling and sharing your problems with a good friend? Assuming that you feel able to share everything with them, you may be fortunate to be supported by a friend's wisdom and self-restraint. However it is generally hard for friends not to become drawn into rescuing, or taking sides, or wanting to impose their own experience onto you, for example with the comment "I know exactly how you feel...". Somehow that comment can have the effect of making you feel even more alone and not listened to. Instead, the friend gets stuck into reminiscing about themselves, or finds it hard to accept the pain of your feelings and rushes into a 'fix it' attitude, while you may find yourself denying or putting your own feelings on hold and instead soothing or reassuring the person who is supposed to be supporting you.
Some people say that it's the most amazing and positive experience, being face to face in the therapy room with someone who really listens to you. As an infant, if we're lucky we experience this with a good-enough parent, though sadly many of us do not. Then as we grow up, we transfer our need to be seen and understood onto a partner/lover. Yet, of course, our partners have their own needs. So to experience this total focus on yourself, and complete acceptance in adulthood, is an extraordinary and wonderfully empowering process.
So what is this process, when you strip all the jargon away? There are so many different types of approach or 'modalities', CBT, psychodynamic, integrative, transpersonal, gestalt, person-centred....the list goes on. According to most of the research, at its core the effectiveness of counselling and psychotherapy lies in the relationship between client and therapist. The relationship becomes the framework within which you can explore your problems, and yourself. If you want to, you can brave your fears and check your sense of what is true. The counsellor will use their skills and personal response to help you to explore, and perhaps offer strategies for coping.
How you experience the process will vary according to the individual. You may immediately feel warmth and trust for the therapist you have chosen. Or you may consider the relationship secondary to your purpose and want to keep things strictly impersonal. Despite your best intentions you might shrink away into yourself in the face of the attention, or find yourself feeling the need to perform, or to have all the answers already. Or perhaps you will look expectantly at the professional opposite expecting them to set the goals and deliver the results. However you find it is valid.
This is one place where you can share whatever your experience is, and know that you will be fully, compassionately and respectfully supported in exploring it in complete confidentiality. And your therapist will understand what it is like to be in your chair, because as part of their training they will have had an extended period of having therapy/counselling for themselves.
So hopefully you feel you are with a therapist who is experienced and sensitive to you and will reassure, acknowledge and defuse any tension. Yet you have already made the biggest leap forward by acknowledging your block, and risking this encounter. Whether you limit your counselling to a handful of solution-focused sessions or embark on a longer term adventure of self-discovery, you have discovered the most remarkable resource: the unconditional, genuine concern and collaboration of another person in trying to understand you and your world.