What is Counselling?
In my counselling practice I hear a common theme of thought from new clients, so I thought it time to clarify the counselling process, how it works and how it can be successful. Often the first things I hear are “can you fix me/us?” or “I came to you for some advice”. My response is often something like “no I can’t fix you, but I can give you the tools so that you can fix yourself” and to the latter – “I can’t give you advice, that is not my job.” Harsh? Perhaps, but let me explain further.
To be a success as a counsellor depends, amongst other things, to respect that we are all different. We come from different cultural backgrounds, we have different life stories and experiences; we are genetically different with different personalities and thought processes – thank goodness! The way the counsellor will view or respond to a situation is often totally different to how other people will view or respond to it. That being the case, the counsellor cannot possible advise clients on what they should do in a particular situation, or how they should recover or respond, or act – the counsellor is not them!
Despite our differences, all human beings have similar processes that respond in a variety of ways – and in the counselling profession, we have adapted various tools that we know, through research, science and trial and error – will assist us. Understanding which method is best suited to which individual is the role of a counsellor. Guiding, teaching and working with clients to help them understand what is best suited to their circumstances and personality, is the role of the counsellor.
A counsellor, through practice and training, is taught to understand human behaviour, thought processes and how the two inter-connect. A counsellor is trained to analyse life experiences and the effect these experiences may have on a particular individual.
How can Counselling help?
A counsellor will encourage a client to talk about what’s bothering them in order to uncover any root causes and identify specific ways of thinking. The counsellor may then look to create a plan of action to either help a client reconcile their issues or help them to find ways of coping.
The way a counsellor can help will depend on the person receiving the treatment. For many, the fact that counselling offers a safe and confidential environment to speak in is all it takes. In life, what we say to others can sometimes have a flow-on effect, altering relationships and the way people see each other. Counselling eliminates this problem and offers a client the space and freedom to explore their own thoughts with an unbiased party.
Whilst counsellors may not give a client concrete advice, what they will do is help them uncover their own insight and understanding of their problems, providing them with the tools that will help them to resolve those issues on their own.
In the majority of cases, a single session will not be enough to help overcome any issues a client is facing. Counselling is a journey, and it takes time and consistency to work effectively. Because of this, many people opt for regular counselling sessions to make the most of the process.
Counselling can help a client understand themselves better and the way they think, which will ultimately help them develop a clearer understanding of their problems. The more armed with information a client is, the easier it gradually becomes to navigate their way through any difficulties they are facing so that eventually they can come out the other side feeling more positive. Counselling can also help a client understand other people’s points of view better, which can shed light onto the way they interpret words or actions.
Counselling is a process people seek when they want to change something in their lives or simply explore their thoughts and feelings in more detail.
When is Counselling successful?
The success or failure of counselling is dependent upon a variety of issues, not the least of which is the bond and trust that exists between the client and the counsellor. At the outset of the counselling relationship, a firm contract will be entered into whereby boundaries, ethical issues, legal issues and expectations are set out.
Counselling should be a partnership between the client and the counsellor. Both parties need to work in a mutually respectful, non-judgmental and safe environment. If either party feels unsafe, or disrespected in any way, then the provision for trust will simply not exist and the therapeutic process will be threatened. If the client does not feel comfortable with the counsellor, for whatever reason, then they should terminate counselling. Likewise, if the counsellor feels that he or she will not be able to help that client, counselling should cease.
A client needs to want to facilitate change. If that person is not open to the concept of having unhealthy thought processes, or behaviours challenged in the counselling environment, again, the success of counselling will be limited. It is important to remember that a counsellor will only be challenging and guiding the client in order to help them.
Counsellors will often set “homework” for their client. This will involve worksheets, journals or exercises to be completed between counselling sessions. This “homework” will never be compulsory. Change must take place at the client’s time and pace, but it is important to note that the more effort a client puts in, the quicker change will occur.
Every person is different, and what works for some, will not work for others. For this reason, it is important for the client to communicate to the counsellor when they don’t understand a concept, or when a process may not be working for them.
Understanding that we are all human, with human frailties, is often the first step to taking ownership of our unhealthy thought or behavioural patterns. Once we accept that we are not perfect, but we want to become the best version of ourselves, the concept of change becomes viable. At this point, counselling can certainly help.