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The counsellor and therapist - a personal trainer for that emotional muscle

The world of counselling and therapy has become much more visible in the popular media in recent times. Issues around access and acceptability are now likely to be featured in newspapers, websites and social media. An increasing number of high profile celebrities have talked publicly about their personal struggles with mental health. Politicians have also voiced concerns about resource allocation for mental health and the importance of ensuring adequate resources.

This welcome breath of publicity provides helpful encouragement for those people who are struggling with emotional challenges and yet hesitant to take that first step to seeking help and support. 

That hesitation is understandable. Some people will be quite upfront about engaging with a counsellor to help with a challenging personal issue. Others may be more circumspect and feel a sense of apprehension about that decision to see a therapist.  

Yet some ideas around external support appear to now be well accepted. For example within the business world there is a widely held view that to work with an executive coach is a sensible way forward with regard to personal development. To be seen to be engaging with a therapist can however sometimes still be regarded as a step too far.

Instead of a providing evidence of an open approach to dealing with personal issues, engagement with a therapist can be seen by some as a cause for concern, perhaps suggesting some underlying fragility or weakness. There is a fear of being tarred with some form of pejorative brush and that sense of apprehension can be clearly very real.

There is an alternative way of looking at work in the counselling room which may encourage a more constructive and supportive approach. That approach can be found relatively close to hand when we look across to the world of physical fitness and body work. 

As the summer beckons many people will be looking to improve their personal fitness. That may involve jogging in the park or visits to the local gym. For some who have particularly concerns about a specific event such as that forthcoming charity run, additional support may be sought.  

Rather than just attending the gym another option is to do some work with a personal trainer. That work may be organised on a weekly basis for a fixed number of sessions or open ended. If we stay with that approach but then start to think about our emotional muscle rather than those physical sinews, some obvious parallels with counselling work start to emerge.

For example the decision to seek one to one support from a fitness trainer in the gym does not necessarily mean that an individual is grossly unfit or in poor overall shape. Of course there may be some fundamental health issues but it may just be that she or he wishes to tone up their physical being.

Now let us look at counselling in a similar way. Clients will walk into the counselling room for different reasons and not because they are necessarily on the edge of an emotional abyss. Sometimes it may just be to find some help to deal with one particular aspect of their emotional lives such as a specific fear or phobia. Therapies particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Solution Focussed work can be particularly effective in providing this type of structured support. 

Alternatively there may just be an ever present feeling of being out of sorts, of having a low mood that has persisted for too long and needs to change. The client wants to feel differently but needs some initial short term support to kick start the process.

Counselling can also deal with more fundamental client needs. It may be that the client wishes to work on much deeper personal issues where there is distress or fear emanating from events of long ago. That type of counselling work may go on for some time. 

This mirrors the way in which some people may decide to deal with having slipped into very poor physical shape. In those situations there may well be a long term engagement with the personal trainer to ensure physical change is effected and then sustained.

And the public reaction? We do not think critically of those who look for support in the gym from a personal trainer. In fact we often applaud the intention. The same should be true for those who go for an emotional workout in the counselling room. 

Our emotional health is as important as our physical health. As with the trainer in the gym, the professional counsellor and therapist can provide the one to one support which can help clients to both rebuild and maintain robust emotional health whatever the individual’s starting point.   

Just as our physical muscles can slip out of shape so can our emotional fitness. Personal trainers provide an important supportive role as far as the well-being of the body is concerned. Our role as counsellors and therapists is to be seen as just as supportive with regard to those emotional muscles.

Attendance at the gym indicates that we care about our physical health. Those visits to the therapist demonstrate an awareness of the important of maintaining good emotional health. And that should also be applauded.

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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Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

Geoff Boutle is a BACP senior accredited therapist working in private practice in Basingstoke, Hampshire.… Read more

Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

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