Excerpt from Going for Counselling: Discover the Benefits of Counselling and Which Approach is Best for You
This book is written with the fundamental belief that the more you know about counselling before you start, the more you will gain from it. When you are in counselling, the more understanding you have of the process, the more you will get out of it.
However, you may be wary of counselling. Often we fear what we do not know, or have no experience of. If you have a problem with your car, you visit a mechanic; a problem with your waste disposal, you call in a plumber. If you are experiencing emotional difficulties, why not go for counselling?
This book aims to demystify counselling; to demonstrate what could take place within the privacy of the counselling room. The principal theme is that you, the client, have a crucial part to play in what happens. Indeed everything hinges on the interaction between you and your counsellor, for without you there would be no counselling. Thus one theme that runs all the way through the book is that of partnership, and that means you and your counsellor working closely together.
Counsellors specialise in working with people who are experiencing emotional difficulties. Going for counselling does not mean that you are weak-willed. Neither does is mean that you are mentally ill. What it does mean is that you have hit a patch in your life where your normal coping skills do not seem strong enough to see you through. Counsellors often need counselling too.
Stress, bereavement, relationship difficulties and depression are some of the common problems for which an increasing number of people seek counselling. Others may not have any specific problem or difficulty, and choose counselling as one way of getting to know themselves. Over the years we have become used to such terms as self-awareness, self-actualisation, and personal growth. What all of these, and the many techniques connected with them, have in common, is more understanding of what makes us tick.
Not all counselling is problem-centred. Getting to know yourself – gaining insight –is an essential part of any counselling, though this does not mean that at the end of counselling you will know yourself thoroughly. Becoming more self–aware is a lifetime process. Counselling can help you know more about your personality, the way you relate to people, your strengths and weaknesses, the way you thing, feel and behave, and introduce you to ways in which you can develop strategies to manage your life more effectively.
Counselling can bring rewards in many areas of life. Personal and work relationships can take on new meaning. It can help you to become more understanding of yourself and other people. You may find or develop strengths that have lain dormant. You may find you have a greater ability to solve problems, and deal with stress more effectively. Many people who have engaged in counselling speak positively of their increased ability to listen with understanding to others.
Your reasons for becoming a client may be any of these suggested, or it may be something known only to you. Whatever the reason, counselling involves change. It can change not only your life, but your relationships with others. Maybe it is the prospect of change that holds you back, but change can be exciting and stimulating. Counselling is one way of helping you make positive changes in your life, rather than feel helpless to influence your future.
May your journey through counselling prove to be exciting, stimulating and fruitful, and may the experience prove to be beneficial not only to you but other people whose lives you touch.
William and I had both worked as counsellors for many years when I came to a point in my life at which I needed someone to counsel me. Being a counsellor does not protect anyone from having problems or difficulties for which they need help, and I was fortunate to find in William a counsellor who not only shared my understanding and approach to people and their needs, I also found someone with skills, warmth and sensitivity to my way of being.
After our work together as counsellor and client had been completed, I was delighted to accept William’s invitation to collaborate on this book, the purpose of which is to demystify the process of counselling and make it accessible to you, the reader.
Our brief is to encompass the core experience of being a client,
to enable you to gain maximum benefit from the process, and to help you work with your counsellor to develop awareness and essential life skills. Our training and work as counsellors over the years, our personal experience of receiving counselling, and our learning from our clients inform the text. It is not always easy to decide to enter counselling, it may feel like entering a maze to find or choose a counsellor, and it may be even more difficult to know what to expect from the experience.
If you are considering counselling we hope this book will address your hopes and fears, answer your queries, and enable you to use your own resources to achieve your goals. Above all we hope you will gain an understanding of the most essential part of the process, namely the relationship between you, the client, and your counsellor.
DECIDING IF YOU WANT COUNSELLING
‘If I keep from meddling with people, they take care of themselves,
If I keep from commanding people, they behave themselves,
If I keep from preaching at people, they improve themselves,
If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves.’
(Friedman M. (1972) Touchstones of Reality. New York: E. P. Dutton.)
The aim of this chapter is to help you decide if counselling is for you. You may be experiencing some difficulty in your life, possibly a problematic relationship, or you have reached a crossroad in your life, and you would like to talk through the options with someone who is not involved. The counselling partnership will help you focus on what you want and how to work toward achieving your goal.
There are many definitions of what counselling is. Simply, it is a working relationship in which clients are helped to explore what is happening in their lives, and through the relationship to work toward living life with greater well-being which empowers them to take control of the direction of their life.
Not every person who uses counselling skills is designated as ‘counsellor'. We can distinguish two broad groups of people who use counselling skills: people who are called ‘counsellors', who engage in counselling as a distinct occupation, and ‘others' who use counselling skills as part of their other skills. Doctors and nurses are two examples of professionals who use counselling skills as part of their repertoire of skills.
Making use of counselling
Counselling will help you make some sense out of confusion, choice from conflict and sense out of nonsense. Counselling will help you discover resources hitherto not recognised and helps you put those resources to work on your own behalf. Whatever the focus in counselling, it must always be on your needs, and any action taken must always be your decision.
You may use the counselling relationship to deal with developmental issues, address and resolve specific problems, make decisions, cope with crises, develop personal insights and knowledge, work through feelings of inner conflict or improve relationships with others, learn new life skills and techniques.
Counselling is entered into of your own free will and is a specific arrangement between your and the counsellor. In the majority of instances, you are most likely to choose to become a client to a full-time counsellor who has no other role.
Working with your unique self
One of the fundamental principles of counselling is that of respect for, and acceptance of, the uniqueness of each and every per son. In other words, whoever you are, whatever your background, problems, life-style, status or behaviour, you will be respected and accepted. Of course there may be many similarities between what two people present to a counsellor, but the essence of the counselling relationship is that the counsellor responds to you as a unique person, and will not try to fit you into some predetermined mould or pattern.
Working with your counsellor in a partnership
In several places I refer to this point – that counselling is a partnership. It could be argued that the doctor/patient relationship is a partnership, but that is true only to a limited extent, for various reasons. The role of the doctor is to diagnose and then prescribe. The doctor has other functions, of course, and some doctors do listen very attentively to their patients, and some are excellent counsellors, but counselling is not their main function. And it is also true that for the prescribed treatment to work, you, the patient have a vital part to play. You must have faith in the doctor, and his diagnoses, and you must be willing to accept the treatment he prescribes.
Unlike medicine, diagnosing does not play an essential role in counselling. Diagnosis consists of observation, an essential facet of counselling, but it also implies examination by questions, applying preconceived principles and criteria, and a process of elimination. Successful treatment is dependent on accurate diagnosis, and cannot start until that process is completed. In most counselling approaches, the word ‘treatment’ is not used, and the process starts immediately, as counsellor and client begin to interact. Similarly, most counsellors will not concentrate on minute history-taking, preferring to build up the picture over time as the essential details are revealed.
Working in partnership towards insight
A partnership has an entirely different meaning, that is why it is an appropriate word to apply to counselling. Firstly, partnership implies equality, a relationship of equals. You may ask, How can this apply to counselling, where the counsellor is a professional, and I am not? While this is true, it is not the whole truth.
In a business partnership, say of three people, you may have an accounts person, a computer person, and a front person. They all have different skills, yet they are equal partners. In hospitals there are teams, where each person, doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, all contribute to the partnership. Just so in counselling.
While the counsellor has in important part to play, he or she would not be in that role if you, the client, were not there. The counsellor’s role is to listen, take in what you say, process it, and then reflect what you have said, in such a way that your understanding is increased and you work toward achieving insight to help you achieve whatever your goal is. Your role is, in many ways, similar to that of the counsellor. If you do no listen, take in, reflect and process what the counsellor is saying, then the counselling process will grind to a halt. That is why counselling is a partnership.
Enhance your self-esteem through counselling
Many people who have difficulties – in whatever area of life, be it work, or at a personal level – suffer from a damaged self esteem. Many different life experiences damage self-esteem. Quite often a low self-esteem comes from relationships at a young age, where parents and those in positions of authority continually undermine the developing child, often by comments that put the child down, and reinforce the feeling of low worth. Children who grow up with a healthy self-esteem are often more able in later life to suffer the knocks of living. The counselling relationship will encourage you to repair their damaged self-esteem for it is here, where you are free from judgement and criticism, you are able to start to respect yourself.
Sort out confused feelings
If you are emotionally confused, counselling will help you make some sense out of confusion; choice from conflict and sense out of nonsense. Counselling will help you discover resources which you have hitherto not recognised, and help you put those resources to work for your benefit. The overall aim of counselling is an improvement in your well-being, in that you are more able to take control of the direction of your life. Whatever the focus in counselling, it must always be on your needs, and the action taken must always be your decision. If counselling is to be successful, the counsellor must depend, for the most part, on your own potential for growth.
Counselling is not a panacea
Counselling is not a cure for all of life’s ills. Indeed many of life’s difficulties cannot be cured, but finding hidden resources can help to make the wheels of your life run more smoothly.
Some common myths about counselling
- Counselling is simply being a good listener.
- Counselling lasts for years.
- Counselling is only for rich people.
- Counsellors are only interested in sex.
- I have to tell the counsellor all my secrets.
- Counselling is only giving advice.
- If I go for counselling, I must be sick.
- Counselling is just being friendly.
- The counsellor will psychoanalyse me.
- Counselling will exploit my weaknesses.
- Counsellors are just well-meaning do-gooders.
- Counsellors are playing at being psychiatrists.
- Counsellors have to be perfect before they can help other people.
- Counsellors tell people what they should do.
- Counsellors solve other people’s problems.
- Counselling will take responsibility away from me.
Some truths about counselling
- Counselling can help you unblock your feelings.
- Counselling can help you to understand yourself better.
- Counselling is a two-way process.
- Counselling can be brief or long-term.
- People of all types and ages go for counselling.
- Counselling can increase your self-confidence.
- Whatever your problem, counselling can help you deal with it.
- Counselling can help you take charge of your life.
- It takes courage to go for counselling.
- Counsellors also have difficulties in their lives.
- Your counsellor will not tell you what to do.
- Your strengths are important in counselling.
- Counselling can help you to build your self-esteem.
- Counselling can improve your relationships.
- Counselling can enable you to manage stress.
- Counselling will help you to set and achieve goals.
- Counselling can help you solve your own problems.
The counsellor will not solve your problems. The counsellor is there to help clarify and facilitate, and help you to find an acceptable solution to your own problems. Neither is it the counsellor's goal is to make you better adjusted to society. The counsellor is there for you, not primarily as an agent of society. If the counsellor were an agent of society then this would have implications of conformity and compliance, both of which most counsellors would certainly not agree to.
There are many professionals, such as probation officers, police officers, social services workers, all of whom do use counselling skills, and are agents of society. Theirs is a special relationship which holds together respect for, and acceptance of, their client, yet at the same time are, of necessity, operating with the constraints of authority. Further discussion goes beyond the remit of this book.