What is counselling?

A lot of people who haven’t been to counselling may wonder what is the difference between talking things out with a counsellor and talking things out with family or friends? This blog post hopes to give some information about what counselling is, and why and how it works. This should give you more knowledge so that you can decide if you think counselling might be something you want to try.

It’s good to talk as the old BT advert goes (showing my age) but why would you pay to talk to a stranger about your problems when you can talk to your friends? There are a number of reasons why in some situations taking the time and effort to engage a professional in your discussion can be a good thing. Unlike family and friends the very fact that the counsellor does not know you on a personal level can be strength. Friends and family may sometimes be influenced by their memories and expectations of who you are and how you should behave. This can sometimes mean that they are unable to be objective about your situation. This is not a problem a counsellor would have, and their objectivity may enable you to gain more insight into your situation.

In relationships with friends and family there is usually give and take, and a desire not to hurt the other person. This can sometimes limit what we can share of say to these people because we care about their feelings. When you are in a counselling session, you are free to say honestly how you think and what you feel without worrying if this is going to hurt the counsellor or damage your relationship with them. I remember saying to my counsellor a few years ago that going to see her was like having a good offload to a best friend, but without having to repay the favour and listen to her problems in return!

Research has shown the most important part of counselling, even more so than the type of training your counsellor has done or the years of experience they have, is the relationship that you build between you. This relationship is built on mutual respect, trust and the ability of the counsellor to accept you as you are. An important part of this relationship is the fact that apart from few exceptions (where there is a real risk to life of your or someone else for example), what you disclose to a counsellor remains confidential between yourself and your counsellor.

Through the process of training counsellors are skilled at listening to what you are saying, and more importantly to picking up on body language and tone of voice to give insight into what you may not be saying, but feeling. Counsellors use various techniques and depending on their training will have different tools at their disposal to allow you to unravel your thoughts and gain deeper understanding of yourself. Depending on the issue you bring, they can also help you to develop strategies to cope with difficult emotions, or to assist you to take action in areas of your life that you need to change.

In order to get the most out of your counselling experience you need to make a commitment to attend sessions weekly. This will enable you to build a good relationship with your counsellor and also help you keep on top of your situation rather than having to catch up every few weeks which will take up lots of time in the session and inhibit the work that can be done.

Coming to counselling is an investment in yourself. It is a chance to look at beliefs and life stories that you have been carrying around for years, probably since your childhood, and decide if they are helping or hindering you now in how you want to live your life. Most people come out of counselling with a deeper understanding of themselves and an enhanced ability to treat themselves with kindness and respect. This personal change has long lasting benefits in their relationships with people they care about also.

I hope that this blog has been useful. If you’ve any questions ARC are always happy to help.