Counselling is a place where you are provided with a safe and supportive environment to share what is troubling you and are listened to in a way that helps you understand yourself better.
The aim of counselling is to help you find more effective and satisfying ways of living your life.
Counselling is not like talking to a friend. It is far more effective, not usually offering advice but instead giving you a fresh perspective, helping you find your own understanding of what you are dealing with, and teaching you coping strategies.
It’s often easier to talk to a professional than a friend or family member as your counsellor is not personally involved in your situation, can offer impartial empathy and compassion, and will not take what you say personally.
Anyone who is willing to accept help to look at themselves and their issues honestly and attentively can benefit from counselling.
You may go to counselling because you are distressed and seeking help with a specific problem. But you do not have to be in crisis to attend counselling sessions.
Counselling is also very useful to simply gain greater confidence and move forward with your life more effectively.
Of course you must be willing to put in time and commitment when you attend counselling sessions, and understand that although it can be very rewarding, change is not always easy.
Counselling can help you deal with any of a wide spectrum of issues, from day-to-day worries and stresses, to distressing and traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one or a relationship breakdown, to long term psychological challenges like depression and anxiety or past trauma.
And counselling isn’t just for your private life but can also help you with your career, including dealing with workplace stress, being more confident, finding better work-life balance, and making better decisions.
A counsellor has specific training in counselling theory and skills (a three or four-year program in the UK) as well as clinical experience of face-to-face counselling. Counsellors typically conduct short and medium-term work with clients.
The relationship between you and your counsellor is one of the most important factors in the effectiveness of your counselling sessions. The aim is to build a relationship based on trust with your counsellor, and feel able to confide in them your feelings and emotions.
A qualified counsellor is not there to in any way judge you or forces you to take a particular course of action. Instead, they help you develop a better understanding of yourself and others so that you can make positive choices for yourself.
At the first meeting your counsellor may explain factors like the length of the session (50 minutes), the reasons for the need to commit to weekly sessions (it provides you and the therapist with a contained space in which to work consistently) and the cancellation policy. It’s important to be on time for your counselling sessions, because they will still end at the agreed on time even if you are late.
During a session you are likely to be encouraged to explore the problems you are facing and express your resulting emotions and thoughts. It is not like idle small talk, nor is it like being interviewed with questions. Your counsellor places his or her full attention on you, asks relevant things about what you share, makes sure that they have understood what you said, and allows silences for you to reflect.
Counselling is a very personal process and it is important to acknowledge that there will be times during your therapy where it is necessary to talk about uncomfortable and painful things. Whatever you say in the counselling session is, however, confidential (subject to legal and ethical exceptions and the fact that a therapist will have a supervisor monitoring them) and counsellors will offer guidance and support to help you through this process.
You may be offered counselling as a single session or as a short-term course of sessions over a period of weeks or months.
Each person has their own unique experience of counselling, and your results will to an extent depend on you – what you want to achieve from the experience, and the commitment you make to the counselling process.
In general, results include, but are not limited to, a greater understanding of self and others, a clearer perspective on your life, clarity on what you would like your future to look like and how to move towards this, an understanding of what makes you happy and how to make positive choices, and a better ability to handle stress and anxiety.