What is counselling and how might it help me?
In this article, I would like to try and clarify what counselling is and what it isn't. I will then explore how it might be helpful if you are in distress, stuck or unsure what you need but know that you are in pain.
Which theoretical model is the 'best one?'
There are many different models of counselling and the 'best one' is the one that works for you and your presenting difficulty. At the core of counselling is the therapeutic relationship. Counselling is a professional relationship which focuses entirely on you and works towards enhancing your sense of self and empowering you.
It is vital that you feel able to trust your counsellor. If there is a rupture, your counsellor will be willing to discuss this with you. This will be different from other relationships where you might feel silenced. Your counsellor will work with you to pace the sessions and stay on track with what it is that you would like to work on in your session.
Can you help me?
Often clients want to know 'can you help me?' That is such a complex question because whilst it is vital that the counsellor works within the limits of their clinical experience and competence the client has a vital role to play in the counselling process.
We will ask you what you would like help with and where you would like to focus. It is our job to ensure that we are checking that you are getting what you need from the process. We will help you to reflect on your beliefs, thoughts, feelings and response to your struggles, always with gentleness and compassion. We will help you to think about what has been helpful in the past and what hasn't worked so well.
Counselling is about change and growth – gradually, gently, and one step at a time. Change isn't easy but it is possible. Sometimes we need to sit with uncertainty, even though it can be enormously anxiety-provoking. When we feel stuck it can be helpful to ask 'what do I know?' 'what can I do?'.
Sometimes the feelings you are experiencing are entirely reasonable for the situation you are in. We don't like feeling sad, angry, stressed or anxious and sometimes just want these difficult feelings to stop. Feelings are like the lights on the dashboard of our car. They are there to tell us how we are and if anything needs some attention. Our emotions sit within our narrative. 'What has happened to me or what is happening to me is much kinder than 'what is wrong with me?'
It can be helpful to check in with ourselves and ask what it is that we notice internally – is our stomach in a knot, does our head hurt, do we feel confused and unable to think clearly – what would help right now? It is important to learn how to self-soothe when we are in distress. Being kind and self-compassionate matters very much. If this is something that you find difficult your counsellor will show you how.
Counselling - a very different kind of relationship
Counselling is not 'just having a chat' or 'just talking' or 'being given advice by a professional and told what to do.'
The world is a very busy place where we are encouraged to rush around and fill our time with endless activities. Where else can we have time to reflect, get to know ourselves better, enhance our relationship with ourselves and others and find some comfort for our pain?
Being in therapy can feel strange to start with. This is a quiet place, with no interruptions and an opportunity for you to share as much or as little as you would like to. Sometimes people are not used to having someone asking them what they need and actually being interested in the answer.
Sometimes talking can be difficult – your counsellor will be patient with you – silence is absolutely fine, there can be profound meanings in silence. They may have other ways of helping you to express yourself – perhaps drawing or writing (you don't need to be an expert at these things, they are simply a possible way of you releasing some of the things which you might have internalised for a long time).
How will I know if I have made progress?
Progress can be defined in so many different ways. Sometimes just knowing you have someone who will give you time and space to be heard, felt and seen can be really healing.
Generally speaking when we feel more peaceful and better able to cope with our situation we will feel ready to bring our time in counselling to an end.
Your counsellor will work in a collaborative way with you so that you are able to have a good ending. This is particularly important as many times we have experienced difficult or traumatic endings in other relationships.
Is it worth thinking more about counselling?
If you have tried everything you know and still don't feel any better perhaps it is time to seek some professional help. After all, we will access help if we have a physical difficulty – our mental health is just as important. There is no shame in asking for help. It demonstrates that we care about ourselves and our health.
What are the next steps?
All the counsellors on Counselling Directory are qualified and insured and have been verified as belonging to a professional body and are therefore working within an ethical framework. These are important considerations when thinking about who you might ask for support.