We all have times where things always seem to be problems and difficulties, times when we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, and yes, often we bide those times and see it through to the other end. Sometimes, though, we feel we are so bogged down with more and more things that we think we have to cope with that it can eventually be a much smaller thing that is the one stressor too many and we become stuck.
This is where counselling can help.
What is counselling?
Counselling is a collaborative process between a counsellor and client to help an individual take effective control of their life. It involves talking and being listened to and really heard and understood; honesty and objectivity but never judgement or advice; and respect for the thoughts, feelings and concerns that are important to you. It offers the opportunity to say, confidentially, things that you may not wish to say to those who are close to you, and perhaps had not even considered admitting to yourself, allowing for a new openness to future personal development and coping. It can be a bit like looking at yourself in a mirror with a fresh pair of eyes that see things differently.
A counsellor will help you, through reflection, to examine patterns of behaviour and beliefs, to prioritise and throw new perspectives on situations that help to improve your resilience to future problems and life events. You will have the opportunity to carefully consider and appreciate your current skills and strengths and learn to build on these to enhance self-esteem, confidence and coping mechanisms. – And you will never be alone.
People seek counselling for many reasons. Bereavement may leave you feeling lost, unable to cope and not wishing to burden other people with your grief; depression can feel like a black pit out of which you cannot climb, anxiety and stress may leave you unable to function effectively, daily feeling ill, traumatised and unable to juggle all life or work constantly throws at you; low self esteem may make you unwilling to socialise and seek out other people, make you feel inadequate and unable to find and follow the life that would make you happy. You may not even know what it is that brings you to counselling – there is just a need for someone else to help you.
Finding a counsellor.
Be aware that the first person you speak to may still not be the counsellor for you – then again they just might be! Just be sure that they are qualified and have experience in the areas you need to reflect on and deal with. The best way to do this is to look at their qualifications and professional memberships In the UK – MBACP, MUKCP, MBPsS C Psychol. You can ensure their qualifications in counselling and psychotherapy are genuine by using the Find a Therapist listings on the professional websites or using directories, such as Counselling Directory, that only list therapists that have had their credentials professionally accredited. If they claim to have a speciality ask just what their experience is in this area. Don’t rely on a short course qualification.
It is possible to get counselling help from GPs or charity organisations such as Mind. The counsellors will be qualified and properly supervised and the counselling will be free. The down side is that there are often long waiting lists, the counselling model (explained later) may not suit you or your issues and may be of very short and infrequent duration. Be very wary of online sites that offer free counselling – they are probably unqualified, at best willing listeners, and may do more harm than good.
Telephone and online directories can give you listings and details of counsellors you can meet face to face at their office or your home or, as becoming more frequent, online through Skype, MSN or e-mail. Online counselling gives you the opportunity to stay in the comfort of your own home and have a far more flexible arrangement regarding times and access to your counsellor.
Like any investment or purchase, it pays to do some research. You may find a counsellor by word of mouth or by the endorsements of others on their websites and listings. This will also give you an opportunity to find the model of counselling that will suit you best. Most counsellors will work to a basic model but will adapt and combine their methods to ensure that you get whatever is most effective for you. All counsellors will ensure confidentiality (with some exceptions which are legally necessary), empathy and a non-judgemental approach. In addition they may offer approaches which are more directive, such as C.B.T. or solution-focussed, and which are usually of fairly short duration. The approach may be non-directive, such as longer term Psychodynamic counselling, or more creative when it is difficult to find what and how you need to say what is important to you. There are many different models and many different combinations. There will be something that works for you!
Counselling, like anything that is worthwhile, has an associated cost. All those well trained and experienced counsellors who will do their best in working with you have had years of paying for that education and training themselves, often gaining many counselling hours of experience in unpaid positions, while also trying to keep their own homes and families. They then have the cost of continual professional and personal development (yes – they have to have counselling too), supervision to ensure the work they do with you is of the highest professional standards, on-going training, professional memberships, personal insurance and maintenance of a private practice and business. If counselling is offered free (unless through NHS, charity or approved agency and funded by other grants) then these things are probably not in place. Most counsellors will list their costs per counselling hour on their website or directory listing and it will usually be comparable with others in their geographical area and level of expertise.
Remember that your mental health and your ability to function effectively every day is as important as your physical health – they may even be very closely related.
The Process.
Often your first appointment will be considered to be an assessment (for both of you) and will not be charged for. This is the chat-128time you get to decide if this particular counsellor or form of counselling is for you. Counselling is an extremely personal experience. If you don’t feel comfortable then you do not need to book a second appointment and it will have given you an idea at least of what does and doesn’t work for you. Some counsellors, especially those who work online and so need to be paid before counselling begins, will offer discounts for block booking appointments, working with you to determine how many will be best for you at any one time. Usually counselling will be weekly for a counselling hour (50 minutes!) so there is consistency, and will be planned for blocks of between 4 – 8 weeks at which point there will be a review with you to determine either how to end or to continue.
The first appointment also gives you both the opportunity to reach an agreement for your counselling. This involves times, places, costs and confidentiality, but also many other issues which are best understood between you in the beginning to ensure you can have complete confidence in your counsellor and counselling and feels safe and secure in what may become a vulnerable process. All qualified counsellors follow a professional code of ethical conduct from their governing body to ensure your best interests at all times.
You will also have the opportunity to talk about what has led to counselling in the first place and what you would like to achieve from it. You might have goals already in your mind, it might all be too much or a bit vague and you just need to talk to work out where you are and where you are going. Your counselling will listen and work with you in the best ways possible to make sure you get there!
Endings are as vital a part of counselling as beginnings. They are often things we do not do well and are a struggle and stressor in life. Avoidance is not an ending and therefore is not something we learn from for the future. Learning to cope with endings and having the opportunity to experience this in counselling should be valued and made good use of. Therefore, it is important to be involved in reviews and plan endings carefully.
Good luck, find the way to be the best you can, and remember – every moment is an opportunity for change!

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