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Isn’t counselling just about exploring your feelings and the past?

Yes, counselling is about talking through how you feel and your difficulties. It might be about going into the past - or it might not.

There are various approaches to counselling and psychotherapy, some focusing on the past, some on the present and a few on both. A few of these therapies are:

  • Psychodynamic approaches to counselling usually help clients explore their childhood and how this relates to the present [1]. This can include working on current or past relationships.
  • Person-centred counselling is non-directive and believes that clients have the potential to grow if they are provided with empathy, genuineness and acceptance in therapy [2].
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is largely focused on the ‘here and now’. Such therapies aim at modifying present thoughts and behaviours by breaking unhelpful patterns and vicious cycles [3].
  • Relational therapy can help clients get a deeper understanding of their relationship patterns and move towards maintaining fulfilling relationships [4].

Recent research in Neuroscience demonstrates the importance of empathy and having someone understand how you feel. The process of counselling, including observing, listening and empathising can activate new mirror neurons in the client’s brain [5]. When the therapist models hope and optimism, it can have a positive effect on the client; this is especially the case when the client likes the therapist [6].

The relationship between the client and counsellor is regarded as the most essential factor in therapy [7]. Having a “reparative relationship” in therapy can actually create new neural pathways in the brain, which is referred to as neuroplasticity [8].

A client might choose a therapist depending on the nature of the issue, the therapist’s approach to counselling and what they would like to get out of the process. Some therapists will help you explore the cause of your concerns, whereas others might provide you with a set of techniques to manage your problems. Neither of these approaches is ‘better’ than the other [9] - it all depends on your preferences and goals for therapy.

Therapy isn’t only about finding a professional listener or getting things off your chest. Based on your needs, it could help you cope with life situations or manage difficult issues.


[1] Martin, A. (2016) The Counsellors Guide. Available from: http://www.thecounsellorsguide.co.uk/psychodynamic-approaches-counselling.html (accessed 23 October 2016).

[2] GoodTherapy.org (2007) http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/person-centered (accessed 23 October 2016).

[3] NHS Choices (2016) http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/types-of-therapy.aspx (accessed 23 October 2016).

[4] GoodTherapy.org (2007) http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/relational-psychotherapy (accessed 23 October 2016).

[5] Paul, S. and Charura, D. (2015) An Introduction to the Therapeutic Relationship in Counselling and Psychotherapy. SAGE: London.

[6] Melbourne Child Psychology (2016) Available from: https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/how-counselling-rewires-the-brain/ (accessed 29 October 2016).

[7] Psychology Today (2015) Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/healing-trauma-s-wounds/201507/the-value-the-therapeutic-relationship-part-two (accessed 29 October 2016).

[8] Paul, S. and Charura, D. (2015) An Introduction to the Therapeutic Relationship in Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: SAGE, p. 40.

[9] Mulhauser, G. (2014) Counselling Resource. Available from: http://counsellingresource.com/therapy/types/effectiveness/ (accessed 23 October 2016).

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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