What is Counselling?

The following is taken from an information sheet provided by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. (See the Links page for more details on this and other oganisations.)

Topics covered here include:
Guidlines for those Seeking Counselling
But what if I don't know what to talk about?
The first meeting with a counsellor
Finding a good counsellor

Guidelines for those seeking counselling

These notes have been prepared to inform prospective clients as to what counselling is and when it might be useful, They have been written also in the belief that realistic expectations from well informed recipients of counselling contribute to the maintenance of high standards in those who give counselling.

There are times in most of our lives when we experience distressing events and feelings which seem to have no end or solution in sight. Sometimes we know that our feelings are due to particular circumstances such as marital stress, relationship problems, bereavement or illness, at others we may have no idea what is making us feel the way we do; all we know is that our lives have become uncomfortable, difficult or even seemingly intolerable.

If our anxiety becomes too great we can be prompted into making hasty decisions, often to be regretted, or act on advice with which we may not be wholeheartedly in agreement – and then have to live with the consequences. Counselling can help people to clarify their thoughts and feelings so they can arrive at their own decisions, or even make major changes in their lives.

It is essentially a lively, human and personal experience between two people. Therefore it is a process which requires commitment of time and effort from both parties. The aim is to help you find your own answers and to become more in charge of your own life rather than less so; to live your life rather than be lived by it.

Counselling is different from other kinds of help where you can become, appropriately at times, the object of diagnosis or assessment and are then told what to do. Good objective listening is the basis of all counselling. This kind of listening to all aspects of your situation can help you discover more about yourself; your strengths and weaknesses, values and priorities, and not only find you own solutions but also carry them out; to take some action for yourself.

Counselling is not an easy process because it often entails digging below the surface and talking about things we feel uncomfortable about and tend to push aside in everyday life. Although disturbing, it can also be a relief to air half buried ideas and feelings. It might be helpful to think of counselling as an opportunity to take risks that we are not usually able to do in our day to day lives because it might seem bizarre or silly. Ideas, thoughts, feelings that others, or even part of ourselves, disapprove of can be aired, explored and contemplated in the counselling room. Not only is such thinking perfectly acceptable but is necessary if we are to gain deeper understanding of ourselves and more meaning to our lives. A counsellor will not try and minimise problems and will respect any efforts that have been made to try and work things out. Whatever the nature of the problem revealed, no judgement is made and absolute confidentiality is maintained. A counsellor will support you during this time and also point out other possible sources of help should that be necessary. Counselling does not claim to be the answer to all human difficulties, but it does offer the opportunity for people to explore different ways of looking at their lives and move towards more effective way of coping.

So whoever you are; whatever you age; whatever the situation or problem you are facing; whether you are worried, depressed, confused, feeling bad about yourself, coping with unexpected change or crisis or just wanting to make some changes in your life, it can be helpful to talk thing over, in confidence, with an understanding and well trained 'outsider'.

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"But what if I don't know what to talk about?"

Since one of the aims of counselling is to help you if you are confused, you have no need to be clear as to what your problem is, or indeed, as to whether or not you have a problem at all, before seeking counselling. It can, however, sometimes help you to make better use of the first session and to find the right kind of counselling if you reflect beforehand about the following questions:
'What is wrong?', 'How long has this been going on?',
'How widely does this affect my life?',
'Is it about feelings or actions, or both?',
'Does it involve others who might also want or need counselling?',
'What do I hope the result of counselling to be?'
If, on the other hand, you feel very clear about your situation and what you want out of counselling, bear in mind that your expectations are unlikely to be met perfectly and be prepared to look into them as part of the counselling process.

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The first meeting with a counsellor

A first meeting with a counsellor is usually an opportunity to discuss whether continued counselling would be appropriate to your needs and therefore is without obligation on either side. You may just want to talk, but at some stage you will need to mention practical considerations such as time, place, cost and duration of meetings, the number of meetings will vary with individual circumstances. Feel free to ask any questions you wish as you need to know where you stand and to satisfy yourself that this particular counsellor is a person whom you feel able to trust and with whom you would like to work. Be prepared to give as complete and honest a picture of you circumstances as you can so that together you can decide whether what the counsellor can offer will match your needs.

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Should you require specific help (marital, sexual, bereavement, educational, vocational) then it is wise to look for a counsellor who specialises in that particular field. Bear in mind too that in some more specialised forms of counselling, after you have explored your situation together and both agreed on a particular course of action, the counsellor may decide to give you some very definite instructions to help you overcome a specific difficulty.
Centres exist specialising in help for the young; informality is the key word and young people are encouraged to drop in for a chat or to talk over in confidence problems they may be encountering at home, with parents, at school or with partners.

Finding a good counsellor

It is not easy to get information about where to go for counselling locally, though is it possible to trace counselling organisations and even individual counsellors through your local library, your GP, the Citizen's Advice Bureau, the Council for Voluntary Service and the local branch of Relate.

Nationally the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can supply some information about counselling services and specialist organisations and publishes its Counselling & Psychotherapy Resources Directory every June.

With thanks to the BACP for this information. See the Links page for more details about the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (formerly BAC) and other relevent organisations.

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