What is counselling all about? You may have thought “I wonder if Counselling would help me – but I’m not sure how it works”. It may help first of all to say what Counselling is not – it is not:-
- A last resort, only for people who are desperate
- Only for people with Mental Health difficulties
- Somewhere where you will be told what to do
Counselling can be useful in making a good situation even better – however, it is more usually helpful for people who need to explore and clarify their own feelings, such as distress, sadness, anger and fear, and who need help in finding a way forward with issues and difficulties.
A good Counsellor will be fully trained, qualified and experienced and will use skills such as effective listening, and qualities such as empathy, to develop a good “therapeutic relationship” with you – this means he/she will be respectful and accepting of you and the point you have reached in your life, and will build your trust by always being genuine and honest with you. The Counsellor will not judge you and will be unshockable, no matter what you tell him/her!
So how does the process actually work? Individual Counsellors work in different ways, using different theories and models, depending on their training and also on the needs of individual clients, for example they may work in a Humanistic, Psychodynamic or Emotionally Focussed way or use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The length of each session is usually fifty minutes and it is most effective for clients to attend sessions regularly. The number of sessions varies depending on need but it is common for clients to attend about six sessions.
The overall purpose of counselling is to offer clients a safe, secure space where the Counsellor will listen to them effectively and help them to find ways of making their own lives better. This may be by talking about difficulties and exploring feelings, or it may be by helping clients to come up with an action plan to meet objectives that they have set.
On the first session the Counsellor will “contract” with you – this means agreeing practical things like the venue and timing of sessions and the fees to be paid, but also “process” things like agreeing confidentiality. The Counsellor will always maintain total confidentiality about anything clients tell him/her in a session, except if the client/s disclose something which causes an unacceptable danger or risk to them or another person, in which case the Counsellor might have to break confidentiality; this will be discussed with the client/s.
In the rest of the session, and in subsequent sessions, the Counsellor will invite the clients to talk about what has brought them to counselling, and will agree an “agenda” with them of what they wish to discuss or change. It is very much “the clients’ agenda”, the Counsellor recognises that clients are the experts in their own lives and s/he will not decide what will be discussed, or tell them what to do. Clients nearly always have the answers to their difficulties within themselves; the job of the Counsellor is to help them find those answers and act on them.
Counselling is not “a nice chat”, it is hard work! Counsellors are ethically required not to waste clients’ time and money so will encourage them to work hard at making their own lives better – and clients are responsible themselves for the decisions they make about the way forward. The Counsellor will respect and support clients, and will be kind and understanding, but will also challenge clients and get tough with them if this will help them in finding a way forward.
“Specialist” counselling may be needed for particular problems such as addiction, sex therapy or eating disorders, but the Counsellor will usually be prepared to work with clients on whatever issue is troubling them at the time.
It is vital for clients to have a good relationship of trust and respect with their Counsellor; it is absolutely fine to check out the Counsellor’s qualifications and experience, and for clients to ask to see a different Counsellor if they are not developing a good relationship with the first one they see.
I hope and believe that I am a good Counsellor, as described above – also, because I had an earlier career as a Training Consultant, I will help client/s to learn helpful practical skills, such as effective communication skills, where appropriate.