"How can talking really help"?

Is Counselling Right For Me?

Date posted: 30 November 2016

For some people the decision to enter counselling is an easy one. For others it is more difficult. When clients first come to see me they often talk about the barriers that have prevented them from coming before. I thought it might be useful to share these, as well as my own thoughts, to help you with your own decision as to whether counselling is for you.

I’m not sure I need counselling.

Counselling is simply a safe and confidential space for you to talk about whatever you are struggling with in your life. There is no struggle that is considered too ‘trivial’ for counselling if it is causing you distress.

I don’t have a mental health problem

“Mental health” is a term that is being widely used today and I really wish a more suitable expression could be found. This is a subject that requires a whole article in itself, but to succinctly express my reservations “mental health” to me also implies the reverse: “mental illness”. In turn, mental illness could be interpreted to imply a mental condition, disease or disorder.  Extreme ends of the mental health spectrum (e.g. psychosis) aside, the majority of people who seek counselling or psychotherapy are mentally healthy individuals yet are experiencing various degrees of distress. This might be because they are struggling with their relationships or are feeling alone and isolated. Other reasons may be childhood trauma or a more recent trauma or life event such as domestic abuse, serious illness or bereavement. They might be struggling with their identity (sexual or general) or with an addiction or difficult life choice. As a consequence, clients can be suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, low self- esteem or a combination of all of these. Does that mean they are mentally ill?  No. It means they are struggling with the ultimate concerns facing all human beings. Essentially and existentially, these can be broadly broken down into the ultimate concerns of:

  • Isolation versus togetherness; relationship problems
  • Meaning and life purpose
  • Freedom and responsibility; life choices
  • Death and the finitude of life

I’m not comfortable talking about my feelings

Talking about something very personal such as feelings can be painful or scary. Feeling uneasy about doing this is normal. This discomfort may be borne out of the fear of being judged; that showing feelings is a weakness; or a fear of change. An experienced and fully trained counsellor will create the right safe environment where personal exploration is possible and only at a pace that feels right for you. It is totally up to you what you want or don’t want to talk about. What is more, most clients share that it is much easier to speak to a counsellor than a friend or relative because of the confidential nature of the therapeutic relationship and because the therapist whilst supportive is also impartial.

I feel coming to counselling means I’m weak or a failure

This is feedback I often receive from clients who possess what us therapists might call a “Be strong” driver, which means that you have learnt to cope by being strong, valued your strength, or have been told as a child to be strong (e.g. boys don’t cry). Psychological distress is all part of being human and it is the inability to show our vulnerabilities that can further contribute to that distress. Admitting we need help when we are stuck is a sign of strength and courage and shows that you care about yourself.

How can talking really help?

What happens in counselling or psychotherapy might be perceived as a bit enigmatic. However, a plethora of psychological and neuroscientific studies have proven that it is effective and that it is the therapeutic relationship that heals. A relationship where we can trust and feel safe enough to talk out loud about our thoughts and feelings and have these witnessed, accepted, understood (non-judgmentally) and reflected back (rather than internally ruminated) enables us to really hear ourselves and make meaning. In addition, therapists will help normalise these feelings and give you new insights and perspectives. With your therapist you are likely to explore your assumptions, values and beliefs. He/she might challenge you on these to discover if they are still actually working for you. And, if not, he/she will help facilitate you to find the wish and the will to overcome any obstacles which may be standing between you and a more fulfilling way of being.

These are just some of the points you might be thinking about whilst deciding whether to come to counselling.  If you have any other concerns, then most counsellors offer a low cost initial consultation where you can discuss these before making your final decision.

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