In search for a ‘magic pill’ while in crisis

"Good help is help towards self-help. All other help is intrusion. When you take responsibility for someone, you take responsibility from that person. It is better to teach the hungry to fish than to feed him or her a fish." -Ben Falk


Very often, people come to therapy in search of guidance and advice in relation to their concerns. Thus, in our first session, when I ask my clients about their expectations of our work together, some of them would disclose that they hope I will give them some answers that they are failing to find themselves.

Furthermore, from my own experience, I know that some trainee counsellors, at the very outset of their career, can find themselves 'trapped' too as they feel this is their responsibility to give some answers to the client, hence to 'fix' the problem that has been brought to the therapy room. However, counselling, like any other talking therapy, does not work this way.

In this regard, I would recommend an 'invaluable guide' - the book Honest Dialogue by Bent Falk (2018) to anyone who is seeking help or interested in helping others 'through dialogue'. Even though originally this book was broadly aimed at helpers who work through dialogue such as counsellors, therapists, nurses, mental health practitioners, I believe it may also help potential clients to increase their understanding of how talking therapy works and who is responsible for changes occurring in their life.

Very often people, while experiencing a crisis in life, seek help somewhere outside in order to 'fix' what has been 'damaged'. However, as Falk mentions in his book, "crisis is not just an illness that needs to be cured; it is life that needs to be lived." Also, they say, in order to 'take off', you need something to 'bounce back from'. Thus, crisis as 'a loss or a threat of a loss' of something meaningful can become an opportunity for growth and nurturing yourself, hence it can contribute to positive changes in your life.

So, why would you not try to bounce back from it in order to take off towards overcoming your problems? How? Well... while drawing upon your own internal resources (or strengths) and with professional help from a counsellor or a psychotherapist.

However, it is important to understand that any intervention aimed at a person in crisis is, first of all, an opportunity to help them to find strengths and capacities within themselves to grow rather than to give advice or prescribe a 'magic pill' in order to 'cure' the illness of crisis. This can be achieved, first of all, through growing clients' awareness. Also, in some cases, crisis intervention can be helping a person to get access to external courses of support, for example, if the helper feels that the helpee might benefit from referral or signposting. 

It is important for both the helper and the helpee to remember the following:

The essential resources for overcoming a difficulty are in a person having the difficulty or in the field of interaction between the people in dialogue. The helper is the interpreter or facilitator of the helpee's search for clarification and choice.

So, nobody can choose for you how to live your life. Thus, it is not the therapist's responsibility to 'fix' your problem for you. They can only try to help you to make some meaning of your experience and look for possibilities to move forward in life. However, it is your own responsibility to make your choices. Thus, 'Good help is help towards self-help'.

When the helper tries to make choices for another person, they take responsibility from the person. This, as Falk argues, "may provide some symptomatic relief, but in the long run, it does not really help." 

So, when you feel 'trapped' in crisis, you may start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How has the crisis impacted me? 
  • How does it make me feel?
  • What did I learn about myself during the crisis?
  • Do I want to bring positive changes to my life?
  • What internal and external resources have I got already that can be helpful?
  • How did I cope during crisis in the past?
  • What are my inner strengths? How can I use them for my benefit?
  • What are my weaknesses? How can I improve them?

If you struggle to answer these questions, you may benefit from seeking professional help. The encounter with a professional counsellor or a psychotherapist and helping dialogues involved between you can bring a lot of positive changes because "when two people together look at one of life's difficulties and acknowledge it as a challenge or a burden, the difficulty becomes easier to cope with and live with. This is often all that one person can do to help another, and it is no minor achievement."

After all, personal growth is possible only when the person is fully accepted as he or she is rather than trying to be who he or she is not. Often, in order to achieve this, you may need to work with a counsellor or a psychotherapist who will not try to 'cure' your 'illness' with a 'magic pill' but rather will be there for you, listening without any judgement, accepting you as you are, while being empathetic and congruent, hence supporting you in finding that 'inner rock' that may help you to bounce back from your crisis and overcome any difficulties.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Dundee, DD2
Written by Yuliia Nicholls, Psychodynamic counsellor, MBACP, MA.
Dundee, DD2

Yuliia Nicholls. Psychodynamic counsellor, MBACP, MA (Psychoanalytic Studies).

I believe everybody has the right to live a life that is experienced as happy and fulfilling. However, at some point of our life, in order to achieve this, we might need somebody who can listen, understand, accept us as we are that can make a 'huge difference'.

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