It's Good To Talk

17th October 2014

A problem shared is a problem halved. Trite, but true. Often you can talk something over with friends or family and that’s enough. But sometimes you need to share a problem somewhere outside the familiar. Especially if the familiar is the problem.

A counsellor offers a safe space – though the idea of going into a room with a stranger to talk about your innermost thoughts can utterly terrifying at first, particularly if you’re labouring under any – or all – of the following misconceptions…

seeing a counsellor is admitting I’ve failed

If you know that there’s a problem, and are prepared to admit and address it, you are well on the way to resolving it. Going for counselling can be a really positive step, enabling you to find the best route forward. It’s not the counsellor’s job to fix the problem for you, but it is his or her job to help you to recognise the resources you already possess and use them more effectively to to resolve your issues. The next time you hit a similar challenge, the hope is that you’ll be able to overcome it without further help.

they’ll expect me to do all the talking

Some might, that’s true. Depending on their training and approach, some counsellors will expect you to do most of the talking with little intervention. And for some clients that will be just right. Other counsellors are more conversational – and that will suit different clients too.

Neither is right or wrong, although a counsellor should be able to tailor the approach to suit you. There is a limit to each counsellor’s flexibility, though, so, if you aren’t finding the process helpful, talk this through with him/her and consider changing if necessary. The relationship between client and counsellor is crucial; there’s no point continuing out of misplaced politeness. If it’s not working, it won’t work.

i might not like their advice

Actually, a counsellor rarely gives advice. Advice doesn’t help.

Think about it. ‘If I were you…’ says your friend, when you tell him/her about a challenge that you’re facing, or a fear you can’t overcome. But they’re not you. Their solution isn’t your solution. They’re trying to be helpful, but their ‘advice’ is wide of the mark. there’s a right way and a wrong way to live your life and that simply isn’t the case. Sure, there are often more useful ways to do things but these are useful to us individually and the ‘one size fits all’ approach just doesn’t work.

A counsellor will work with you to help you understand your difficulties from the inside out, and discover more useful ways to get on with your life. The definition of ‘useful’ is yours, not the counsellor’s. You are, of course, at liberty to ignore all suggestions… although that might defeat the object. Nevertheless, the point is that you remain in control.

i don’t want to revisit a painful past

Some counsellors do start by talking about the past in order to uncover and understand the root cause of present issues, but the days of traumatising clients by getting them to relive painful memories over and over are largely gone. Other approaches are very much focused on the present, ignoring causes and majoring on finding solutions to manage, alleviate or remove the symptoms of the problem.

If you’re an analytical sort of person, who likes to talk things through and make sense of how the past impacts on the present then the former approach might suit. And that’s fine. Today, though, most people prefer the ‘fix it’ mentality of more contemporary approaches. Bear in mind, too, of course, that different problems may best be solved by different methods of counselling.
i don’t want to be judged

A counsellor is not an expert on your life. You are – and you certainly shouldn’t feel as if you are being judged. If the counsellor is ‘expert’ in anything, it’s in initiating and managing conversations of the type that generate new perspectives and offer more choices.

One of the best things about the counselling process is talking freely to a neutral third party. The counsellor’s only goal is that you are more satisfied with life when you leave than when you arrive.

Imagine that you and your partner are going through a rough patch and you confide in your best friend, who says how wonderful your partner is and how lucky you should feel. You feel sad, guilty and misunderstood. You turn to your mother who says she knew your partner wasn’t right for you years ago and she’s surprised you’ve lasted this long. You feel defensive, judged – and still cross with your partner. Neither of these opinions is right or wrong; they’re just opinions from people who care about you. But do they help or just confuse and upset you further? A counsellor, by contrast, won’t ‘care ‘about you in the same way, but will help you explore your thoughts and feelings about the relationship. He or she will help you to see the situation from different perspectives and make up your own mind about how to move forward.

making it work…

The key to a successful counselling process will be the partnership that develops between you and your counsellor, so find someone with whom you feel comfortable, someone you can trust, who will take the time and trouble to understand you and your difficulties and who will treat you with respect. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (www.bacp.co.uk) and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (www.psychotherapy.org.uk) each have lists of qualified members.

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