What Happens During Counselling?
There are lots of different answers to this question, which will vary depending on which type of therapist you end up with; but in my experience you can narrow the therapeutic process down to six stages: unburdening; untangling feelings, thoughts and behaviours; uncovering underlying beliefs; reflection; change; practise and small steps.
Research studies show that around 70% of the benefit of counselling comes from the relationship with your therapist. This doesn't stem from an inevitability that all therapists are super-nice to be with, but rather from the fact that it's opportunity to get whatever is distressing you off your chest, and to talk to someone who will listen and will not judge you. Just talking through your distress with another person can create a great deal of comfort and provide a feeling of release.
Untangling feelings, thoughts and behaviour
After the initial gush of explanation you can start to unpick with your therapist the emotions that drive your feelings; the thoughts behind them and the behaviours that both trigger bad sensations and the way you behave to others. Emotions, thoughts and behaviours underpin your relationships and it is really helpful to examine what is going on.
Uncovering underlying beliefs
Once you start to think through what is going on, you will see that your view of “you in the world” is based on sets of beliefs.
Beliefs about you: how safe are you?; how important are you?
Beliefs about others: how do they relate to you?; what might they be thinking?
It is likely that some of these beliefs may be outmoded relics of past experience that do you no service in your current world.
Having talked through the tangled web of your life and gained some level of understanding of what is going on for you, you can take a few steps back and reflect on who you are. You can examine your previously-submerged narrative that is the story you tell yourself about yourself. This reflection will help you pinpoint sources of distress and anxiety.
With this new perspective you can decide which bits you like and which bits you might want to change. Now that you have developed an understanding of the complicated emotions, thoughts, beliefs and narratives that make up your view of yourself, you can consider how changes might improve your life.
Practise and small steps
This new awareness can be empowering. You may not need to make revolutionary changes, but this new perspective on your life will help you to plot the small steps to develop a new you and reduce sources of anxiety.
In this short article I have tried to distill the essence of the therapeutic journey. I may have over-simplified many issues, but in trying to condense counselling into six major stages I hope I have also clarified what happens in counselling.