Counselling and Therapy
...talking it through
Throughout life, there have been many times when I have valued having someone listen to me,
someone with whom I could talk things through. Sometimes the person would be a relative,
a friend, a colleague or at times a professional.
The key was to find someone who would listen without interruption.
Listening is not something most of us are good at – we rush to judge, make snap decisions
based on our own world view, are quick to fix someone, to give them our solutions. We think
we are listening when in fact we are already planning what to say next. We have already worked
out what’s wrong with the other and their situation before the poor soul has had a chance
to draw breath!
And even if we are good at listening, few are really good at reflecting back to the person they are listening to, at highlighting the patterns and issues in the story, at summarising what is being said, or in demonstrating empathy – really indicating we know what it is like to wander around in the other’s shoes, be in their skin, be in their world. oh we trot out "I understand" but can we really?
Even medical people, who we would expect to be good listeners, are mostly not good listeners because they are constrained by time, they are exhausted, some think they know best, they are working to a menu of pre-set questions looking for almost formulaic answers. Give them a buzz word and they bite and next thing they are off down the route of their own choosing.
For more on what makes a good listener, move to this new page.
Finding someone to talk things through
Let’s now focus on looking for a professional with whom you can talk things through.
Whether we call it counselling or therapy, and I acknowledge the two are not the same, they both have a similar objective. The paid professional or trained volunteer (such as with the Samaritans and other voluntary agencies) is there to help you explore your present situation, help you reach an understanding of it, perhaps what got you into it in the first place or understand the source of repeating patterns of thinking and acting that always take you to the same end point. They too are attempting to understand things from your perspective, and sometimes a wider perspective too as they may wish to help you explore your situation within the context of the wider world. And at some point they are there to enable you figure out options of different ways to be more resourceful in life, they may offer you ideas (depending on the type of counselling or therapy offered) or work with you to help you generate your own ideas. From those new options, choices can be made, a decision you make to a new course of action or way of thinking and being.
What's the point?
Essentially, a competent counsellor or therapist if there to help you:-
Understand what gets in the way of living life successfully
Explore ways of ‘breaking through’ the blocks and barriers through
Gaining fresh insights and understandings
Clarifying your thoughts and feelings, how they arose perhaps, how to manage them, and sometimes how to change them
Recognising your own resources and successes
Developing your skills and abilities or even learn new ones
Find new coping (getting by) and managing (being more in control) strategies
What are the benefits?
Talking it through with a counsellor or therapist brings many benefits, especially at a time when you may feel lost, grieving, stuck, or mentally in despair. Sometimes you may just need help to make a clearer decision at a change point in life. But you can also gain by:-
Enhanced sense of self
Increased confidence and self-esteem
Increased motivation and resilience
Healing negative emotions and memories
Ability to cope better in difficult situations
Better understanding of self and others
Improved relationships, including with your self
Opening up new ways of being, seeing, living and relating in the world
Finding ways forward and making decisions
Finding increased zest for and satisfaction in life
Not all calories are created equally, neither are counselling modes!
When seeking a counsellor or therapist, it can be useful to understand that there are different approaches, each with a different purpose in mind.
Some counselling and therapeutic approacches put you firmly in the driving seat and the counsellor enables you to come up with your understanding and possible solutions. In other cases, the counsellor or therapist takes on the role of “analysing” you and your situation and being more directive.
Some, such as Gestalt counselling, help you learn from what is happening in the “here and now” by exploring what is happening in the moment between you and the counsellor. In some other therapies, eg client centred counselling, some time will be spent exploring the past in order to understand the present whereas other approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will be more focussed on your present thinking and how it affects your behaviour and having you change your thinking in order to bring about different outcomes.
Some modes of counselling are ones where you, the client, have to fit with the model ie “this is the way we do it!”
But other approaches, such as eclectic and integrative approaches, where the counsellor draws from different modes of helping, the counsellor very much uses a combining of different counselling approaches to fit the client.
So, in seeking a counsellor you have to think about what different approaches there are and which may work more appropriately for you.
Questions to ask before signing up to counselling or therapy
So do your research and be prepared to ask a prospective counsellor some of the followingquestions:-
What type of therapy / counselling do you practice?
What qualifications do you have to be a counsellor /therapist, how long was your training, and how long have you been practising?
There are many different types of therapists, such as social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health or professional counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc., and each specialty has its own way of approaching therapy.
What experience do you have working with the types of problems I am experiencing?
What is your approach to doing therapy in a situation such as mine? How flexible are you in your approach?
Is your approach one where I have to fit the counselling mode or is the approach one that is tailored to fit me and my situation?
What are the success rates in problems such as mine? (Keep in mind that most therapists do not keep statistics the same way that a doctor might.)
Are you directive or do you leave it all down to me? (You are trying to find out if they are the “nodding dog” silent type or someone whose approach allows them to engage with you. Eg if you ask them a direct question will they give you an honest, direct answer? You, usually, are paying after all! There are times when a directive therapist can be more appropriate but there are also times when it is good to have a therapist with a lighter, guiding touch leaving you more in control as a client. Which do you need. You may want someone who is gentle on you but you may actually need someone who can be both supporting and challenging.
Do you have an ideal client? Do you fit the bill?
What is your honest approach to my life situation? Eg this could be gender, sexuality, culture, race, ethnicity, ability, health condition etc)
Is there anything I might do that would really annoy you?
Do sessions start and end promptly?
What is your cancellation policy if I am unable to attend?
And if I am late for a session?
How do I pay you?
Do you offer phone sessions if I need something outside session times?
Where are sessions held and are their stairs to climb?
What preparation do I need to do for the first and subsequent sessions?
Is there homework between sessions? What types of things would you expect me to do between sessions, if anything?
How confidential are the sessions? Do you take notes / keep notes electronically?
When would you break confidentiality?
If I find exploring the past gets me down or I start having lots of problems between sessions, what are my options?
Can I bring someone to my session? (Be open as to who this might be and why you would want them present. And would you want them present if really personal issues came up?)
When you are away, what happens to my therapy?
Counselling and Therapeutic Approaches
The following is a list of different counselling and other therapeutic approaches. A Google search will help you find more detailed information.
Arts therapies involve the use of creative arts such as music, art, drama and dance - in a therapeutic environment.
Art therapy/Art psychotherapy
Cognitive and behavioural therapies
Behavioural therapies are based on the way you think (cognitive) and/or the way you behave. They recognise that it is possible to change, or recondition, our thoughts or behaviour to overcome specific problems. Cognitive and behavioural therapies are both forms of psychotherapy (a psychological approach to treatment) and are based on scientific principles that help people change the way they think, feel and behave. They are problem-focused and practical.
The premise is that certain behaviours are a learned response to particular circumstances and these responses can be modified.
Behavioural therapy specifically aims to change harmful and unhelpful behaviours that an individual may have. The cognitive behaviour part looks at how people think and create meaning about, situations, symptoms and events in their lives and so develop beliefs about themselves, others and the world. These ways of thinking (harmful, unhelpful or 'false' ideas, beliefs, and thoughts) are seen as triggers for mental and physical health problems. By challenging ways of thinking, cognitive therapy can help to produce more helpful and realistic thought patterns.
Today, both approaches tend to be included in CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Couples counselling / therapy
These focus on self-development, growth and helping people take more responsibility for their life and living. They help individuals recognise their strengths, creativity and choice in the 'here and now'. Humanistic therapies adopt a holistic approach to human existence and take account of creativity, free will, and the ability of the human being to achieve their potential. It encourages self exploration and viewing oneself as a "whole person."
Human Givens psychotherapy
Person-centred therapy (also known as "client-centred" counselling)
Solution-focused brief therapy
Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies
Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies are based on an individual's unconscious thoughts and perceptions that have developed throughout their childhood, and how these affect their current behaviour and thoughts. Such therapies include:-