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Does counselling really work

does counselling really work
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Compared to thirty years ago, attitudes towards counselling have changed radically. In the past, people who ‘went on the couch’ were viewed with suspicion and assumed to be extremely unstable, whereas these days the question of ‘are you having counselling’ can be one of the first used to assess how someone is going to get through a challenging situation.

Type of counselling

There are broad differences between counselling approaches, some of which delve into a persons’ early childhood experiences in order to understand their current day ways of behaving and reacting. Other approaches work very much in the here and now, focusing on the immediate relationship between the counsellor and the client as the vehicle for understanding and resolving issues.

In the last decade, a type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been rolled out across the UK and this is what you are likely to be offered through a GP as either an alternative or compliment to other services such as medication.

Counselling skills

Many people use counselling skills in their every day work and lives. A teacher speaking to a child about being bullied, an employer listening to a member of staff who is taking time off or even a hairdresser who’s client is sharing details of a recent breakup. Counselling skills simply mean being very present and active in the way that you listen to people speaking to you, creating space for that person to talk, rather than jumping in with your own version of the experience, with lots of advice about what is needed.

How is counselling different?

does counselling really workThere is a difference between having counselling and someone using counselling skills to listen to you. Counselling is set up in such a way that it is regular, protected with an agreement of confidentiality, and the person counselling you will not bring any of their personal issues or problems into the conversation. This structure helps create a feeling of safety, within which a person can take the risk of sharing personal information and explore feelings about what they are experiencing.

Will it help?

Counselling can help people to a greater or lesser extent depending on many factors – other sources of support, emotional readiness to change, clarity and realism of goals, etc… A well known phrase in counselling is that ‘it might get worse before it gets better’. This warning is given because if a person has spent a long time in their life avoiding their feelings, it can be overwhelming or shocking when the experience of feeling them comes into play. Having other support outside of the sessions like a partner or good friend, can make the difference between this being manageable or not.

Emotional readiness and willingness is also key. Sometimes, people go into counselling because someone else suggests that it would be good for them. Unless a person has enough personal investment in the counselling, it is a lot less likely to be effective. There also needs to be an acceptance of the clients role in the process. The old adage that you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink is very apt here, with the best will in the world, a counsellor can only do so much of the process alone.

Trusting your counsellor

The “chemistry” between therapist and client can also be an important factor, any particular client will find that some therapists will suit them better than others. Clients may even have a preference in relation to the gender, age and sometimes experience of their therapist. It is not true that a counsellor needs to have had the same life experiences as the client in order to help them, but it is true that a high degree of empathy will make a big difference to the experience of being counselled.

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About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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