How to make counselling work for you (part one)
You've been thinking about it for a while, and have decided to give counselling a try. It may be you've been struggling with anxiety or depression, are having problems at work, or have lost someone that matters to you. Perhaps a family member, friend or colleague has suggested you need someone to talk to.
Counselling is a confidential process, which can sometimes feel mysterious and somewhat secretive, leaving you with lots of questions about what happens and how it works. This is the first of two articles in which I want to give you 10 tips for how to get the most from counselling.
1. Find the right "fit"
Counselling is a process that involves a trained professional working to support and help you, the client. So, it makes sense firstly to check that your counsellor is professionally qualified and registered with an appropriate professional body, such as the BACP or UKCP. This means that they have the training needed to help you and that they work to a code of ethics. It’s also worth checking that they have experience in working with the issues that are have made you come for counselling.
After that, the relationship between you and your counsellor has been shown to be the most important factor in whether counselling is beneficial for you. Clients can usually tell early on whether their counsellor is the right person. Pay attention to how you feel in your session; have they made the space feel safe by explaining the way they work, where the limits of confidentiality are and how to contact them if you need to? Do you get the sense that they are carefully listening to you, that they are trying to understand how things look from your perspective and do they try to put you at ease? While counselling can be a hard process, feeling safe and comfortable in session is a sign that you may have found the counsellor for you.
2. Ask questions
Counselling is one place where you can ask anything you want, whether it be about how the counsellor works, how long they think you might need to see them for, whether they’ve ever been in counselling (most counsellors will have) or how they chose the colour of their counselling room! If you ask anything your counsellor doesn’t want to answer, they’ll say so and explain why. Usually it’s simply that the session time is set aside for you and they don’t want to take the focus away from what you want to work on.
3. Just say it
Like tip two, counselling is somewhere where you can literally say anything that’s on your mind. In fact, it works best when you do just that. We often go through life filtering our thoughts and feelings for fear of showing too much of ourselves or hurting other people. In counselling you can safely let that filter go. Whatever is on your heart and mind is worth bringing, your counsellor can help you unpick things, meaning you’ll have a better understanding of why you think and feel the way you do and what you might want to change.
4. Take it outside
Most of the work in counselling is done outside of the counselling session. That may sound counter-intuitive but when you think about it, you’re in session for just one hour a week, or perhaps a fortnight – the capacity for real change comes when you spend some time thinking about what you’ve talked about in therapy in between sessions. Some people find keeping a journal or blog (with appropriate privacy settings) helpful, and can also be a good way of deciding what you need to focus on in your next session.
5. Be kind to yourself
You’ve started a process of looking at situations, thoughts and feelings that may be causing you difficulty, or you may be trying to make changes to long held beliefs or patterns of behaviour. It can be hard work and bring up lots of uncertain, sometimes painful feelings. This is a good time to practice looking after yourself. Think of activities that you find relaxing, anything from going for a walk, doing the garden, spending time in the gym, reading a book or simply having a cup of tea in peace – whatever your thing is, try to make time for yourself in between sessions. You’ll find that spending some time just for you will make it easier to look at the challenging stuff that often comes up in counselling.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful, in part two I’ll be offering another five tips to help make counselling work for you.
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