What counselling is - and is not!

Counselling is primarily a talking therapy which aims to help us make sense of our emotions or the situations in which we find ourselves.

It offers a safe, confidential environment where we can unpack our thoughts and feelings alongside a trained practitioner who will listen attentively, empathically and without judgement, offering reflections about what’s being said. In turn, this can bring about effective change and a greater sense of personal wellbeing for us.

Counselling is not about ‘fixing us’ because we are somehow broken or have failed the tests of life. It is not a punishment because we have done something wrong or proof that we just aren’t good enough. It is also not about ‘analysing’ us in order to expose innermost secrets to be used against us.

Counselling is not about giving expert advice. Counsellors will not judge or patronise by telling us what to do or forcing us to do something we don’t want to do. In fact, the underpinning principles of counselling are based on the knowledge that we are the greatest experts about ourselves and it is the counsellor’s job is to help unlock the considerable resources we already have within us.

Counselling is not a cure-all and cannot protect us from the inevitable challenges that life throws at us. It cannot stop our feelings of emotional pain, but it can help us to realise the considerable power we have within us to process such pain and live life more fully.

Isn’t counselling just a cosy chat? Why see a professional counsellor?

Friends and family can be a great support in difficult times, but they’re not necessarily always the best people to turn to. Important people in our lives, often for well-intentioned reasons, have their own agenda when it comes to our life choices. They may think it is in our best interests to feel or act in a certain way and those views may impact on how they respond to us.

Alternatively, we may ‘bottle up’ our struggles from others including relatives, friends and colleagues because we feel embarrassed or ashamed about the challenges we may be facing. We might not want to let them in on what we’re feeling or doing for fear of rejection, ridicule, gossip or the worry that they may regard us as having failed somehow or we may simply not want to burden them with our problems.

Talking to a trained counsellor provides a safe space to start articulating how we’re feeling. It’s not self-indulgent to pay attention to our feelings as they are crucial indicators of the state of our emotional health and can help us uncover any internal blocks that might be holding us back. What a counsellor can do is help us explore these emotions, what’s behind them, how we act as a result of them and the ways in which we might work through them for a greater sense of wellbeing. In this way helping us to reconnect with our ‘true self’ as well as our family, friends and others in our lives.

Nobody is all good or all bad – each of us is a complex picture built up from earlier life experiences making us the person we are today. It is part of the counsellor’s role to help us shed light on that picture, with empathy and acceptance, giving us insight but also finding a way to lead a life that is not always shackled to the past.

Unlike a chat with a friend, counselling is dedicated time for us. No one will start comparing notes, weighing in with their own problems and opinions and requiring us to reciprocate in kind. A counsellor offers full commitment to really hearing our unique story and understanding us properly, getting a clear sense of our perspectives. By listening to us without judgement; their only concern is how they can help and support in the process.

Indeed, it is my belief that the world would be a safer and happier place if more people had the courage to take the time to sit with their pain and develop insight and understanding in order to work through their personal struggles.

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