Excerpt from Self-Counselling: How to Develop the Skills to Positively Manage Your Life


The aim of this book is to help readers understand themselves better, and to be able to live richer and more fulfilled lives. I see this book as being an adjunct, not necessarily an alternative (although it may be for some) to face to face counselling.

This book takes counselling from a partnership with someone else, to a partnership with self. The inference can be drawn by readers is that they can do something for themselves. Students on counselling courses would benefit from working through the book. People already in counselling or other forms of therapy would find that their insights are enhanced, and they are able to enter into a more active partnership with either the trainer, therapist or counsellor.

More people are being drawn toward counselling, either as counsellors or as clients. A parallel can be drawn between this burgeoning of counselling to what happened at the start of the century with the great surge forward of psychotherapies of the Neo-Freudians, based on Freud’s psychoanalysis, many of them not subscribing to Freud’s rigid interpretations, yet each contributing new insights to the body of knowledge of psychotherapy.

Carl Rogers, trained in psychoanalysis, brought fresh insights as he moved the process from being therapist-centred, with set interpretations, to client-centred counselling. Much of the mystique was removed, as it became feasible for ‘ordinary’ people to learn to be counsellors. At the same time Rogers, and his followers, stressed that person-centred counselling was not psychoanalysis, even though the insights certainly draw from it, as well as other psychological therapies.

Finally, as many authors and therapists have said, clients are generally seen for a few hours weekly (as in psychoanalysis) or once a week (as in counselling); what happens within the client in the remaining hours – waking or sleeping? Whatever style of therapy (counselling), therapists would agree that more goes on within the client in the hours away from the consultation room than in it. The one hour a week is but a catalyst; it is up to the client to continue the work. Some do, others are so caught up in their difficulties that they (consciously) do little work by themselves.

This book could be given by counsellors to clients to continue the work and keep up the momentum. The more insights and skills clients can develop, the further client and counsellor will be able to travel along the road toward healing. But in the end, it is the client who is the principal actor; the counsellor is the facilitator. This book encourages the reader to be his or her own facilitator.



In her Introduction to Self-analysis (1942 and reissued in 1994), Karen Horney says: ‘To an increasing degree people turn to analysis not because they suffer from depressions, phobias, or comparable disorders but because they feel they cannot cope with life or feel that factors within themselves are holding them back or injuring their relationships with others.’ Written over fifty years ago, this applies with even more force to the rapid development of counselling, and the awareness that counselling can help people to live life more effectively.

Identifying who benefits from self-counselling

  1. Self-counselling helps people develop their self-awareness to deal with their own problems.
  2. Self-counselling is a backup for people already in counselling.
  3. Students on counselling courses.
  4. It is cheaper than therapy.

Comparing and contrasting psychoanalysis and counselling

While counselling draws on the insights derived from psychoanalysis, the two disciplines are different. Psychoanalysis deals more with people who are troubled by some deep-seated problem which often carries the label of neurosis. Counselling deals more with people whose emotional equilibrium is temporarily disturbed because of some difficulty with which they find it difficult to cope. The ‘more’ is important, for many counsellors work at a level which goes beyond ‘temporarily disturbed.’

The main purpose of psychoanalysis is to make unconscious material conscious. Psychoanalytical belief is that neuroses are acquired only during early childhood. Thus the principal focus is in the past, and the first few years of life; in counselling the principal focus is the present. The aim of both is to help the person to move forward.

This does not mean that psychoanalysis ignores the present and the future, and that counselling does not involve the past, but it is the principal focus which is different. In fact, it is impossible to look at the present without considering the past; to try to do so would be like trying to separate the white of an egg from the yolk. It can be done but one is left with something incomplete.

A basic assumptions common to both psychoanalysis and counselling is that when we experience emotional conflict, to the stage that it interferes with daily living, we cease to live effectively; are incapable of enjoyment; and we need to do something to resolve the conflict.

Defining the differences between psychoanalysis and counselling

Psychoanalysis deals more with people who are deeply troubled by some deep-seated problem which often carries the label of neurosis. Counselling deals more with people whose emotional equilibrium is temporarily disturbed because of some difficulty with which they find it difficult to cope. In psychoanalysis the principal focus is in the past, and the first few years of life; in counselling the principal focus is the present.

Exploring the feasibility of being your own counsellor

This brief excursion into what psychoanalysis is, and its similarities and differences to counselling, paves the way for a more detailed discussion of how feasible it is to be one’s own counsellor. Half a century ago it was assumed that analysis was the only reliable method to achieve personality growth. That this is not so hardly needs to be stated for counselling, any more than for psychoanalysis. Many other avenues have the potential for personal growth; involvement in religion, work, a worthwhile interest, a loving relationship.

Being your own counsellor is not an easy option, for it can be every bit as demanding as face to face counselling. In reality, it can be more demanding. In self-counselling, the ‘session’ does not end; the door does not close. You find yourself being, as it were, the counsellor on your own shoulder, constantly pushing yourself, bringing something fresh to your mind, even waking you up in the middle of the night with a fresh insight.

Effective counselling hinges on a co-operative partnership between counsellor and client; without this co-operation little will be accomplished. Co-operation does not mean polite compliance, or agreeing with everything the counsellor proposes; nor does it mean simply giving information. Co-operation means entering into the exploration – fully. It does not mean being led by the hand; it often means going into the unknown, going where you have never gone before. That is counselling. That is self-counselling, too. The phrase ‘test the water’ is apt in counselling; and as we shall see, it should be the watchword in self-counselling.

Developing insights

Counsellors impart skills to their clients, and help them develop insights. It is important to distinguish ‘helps them develop insights’ from ‘giving insights.’ Insights are highly personal, and cannot be ‘given’ by one person to another. I may tell the client that such and such brought insight to me, but that is as far as it can go. Insights must come fresh like the Eureka experience came to Archimedes in the bath, when he discovered the phenomenon of water displacement.

Nothing is more thrilling than when an insight dawns. It may have lingered for days or weeks, gradually working away in the subconscious, even figuring in your dreams, or with little flashes of sub-insights – something like looking through frosted glass. There the vision is dimmed; the form can be distinguished, but lacks detail. Thus with some insights. Not all come like bolts from the blue.

Sharing insights has to be treated with caution. There might be natural tendency to repeat the action of Archimedes, who, it is alleged, jumped out of the bath and ran down the street naked, telling the astonished the inhabitants of Syracuse, ‘I have found it!’ No doubt the startled populace laughed at Archimedes’ insight; people might not laugh at yours, but they might not appreciate what it means to you, and that is much the same thing. So, treat your insights with the greatest respect, and share them only when you have absorbed them into your innermost being, and when they have taken root, and produced good fruit, then share them. Even then, be careful with whom you share. Don’t, as the Bible says, cast your pearls before swine.

Counselling is not an easy road to travel; neither is self-counselling. The title of this book could have been Self-counselling made easy, but that might have misled you into thinking that the process is easy. The journey of self-awareness is not easy, but it is rewarding. You will come up against obstacles at which you balk. For a time you may feel like giving up; that it is all too hard. You could, like the Israelites, sit by the rivers of your particular Babylon and hang up your harp and refuse to sing. You can wallow in your despair, and sit and complain how hard the journey is. Or you can pick yourself up and look for a way around, over, or under the obstacle. Later we shall discuss the use of imagery to help you on your journey, but here is an exercise as a taster.


Using imagery to help you on your way

Sit quietly for a few minutes, and when you are relaxed, move on to the next stage.

  1. Imagine you are travelling along a narrow pathway, and find the way blocked by a landslide.
  2. It is vital that you continue your journey. Imagine how you would overcome the obstacle.

(A suggested answer the Appendix.)

Journeying towards self-discovery

Being your own counsellor will take you out of your accepted way of thinking about things. Some people might criticise this as being ‘pie in the sky,’ or just fantasy. It might be fantasy, it might be fantastic, but so is the journey towards self-discovery, for it is a journey that has no map, no signposts, no known way, yet countless thousands have travelled this way; and every journey is different. Every pilgrim creates his or her own map and signposts, and every pilgrim finds his or her own solutions to problems. Like Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, they are all making their way to some Celestial City yet for each it is different. Life is a paradox; so is the journey toward self-awareness.

In this pilgrimage, we may be accompanied by someone like a counsellor, but we cannot rely on him or her to lead us. And we can only go as far, or as quickly, as we, ourselves, are able and willing. Self-counselling is a bit like learning by correspondence – you go at your own pace. Some students are really focused on the course, and apply themselves to every lesson and the accompanying assignments. Others look upon the lessons as a chore, and the assignments as drudgery. But what they have in common is that they are doing things at their own pace, not being pushed by a zealous (or over-zealous) teacher. So in self-counselling.

Identifying the limitations of self-counselling.

The question must be asked – should people be their own counsellors? An analogy can be drawn; many people are keen ‘amateur’ gardeners, and produce wonderful shows of fruit and vegetables. Who would ever dream of suggesting they should only garden if they have a degree in horticulture? What about the DIY person, who can build anything from a wall to a whole house, and then build all the fixtures? The examples are endless. The idea that they should not do it is laughable. Is it any more ridiculous then to suggest that a person should learn to be his or her own counsellor?

But what are the limitations? It would be tempting to state that there were none, but that would be untrue. However, it is equally possible that the limitations that apply to any counselling also apply to self-counselling. Counselling is often inappropriate for the more florid mental illnesses, but even here, a degree of self-counselling might help; it certainly would be unlikely to make the condition worse.

A second possible reason why self-counselling might not be feasible is the degree to which the person is enmeshed in the problem. In other words, how deeply embedded in the unconscious it is. It could be argued that such cases are not suitable for counselling, but also for psychoanalysis.

Self-counselling might turn a person into an introspective, self-centred egoist. That is true, it might, and so might becoming engaged in counselling. Yet, if the self-counsellor listens, really listens to his or her psyche, that inner voice will guide them. However, it is still the self-counsellor’s right to become egocentric, and it should not be denied them. Maybe the person needs to become egocentric and self-interested in order to reach a part that hitherto has been inaccessible.

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