Counselling & Psychotherapy

Often people seek counselling for a specific reason but it doesn’t have to be related to a major life event. Many of us will have had difficult experiences at some stage of our lives that may have affected our self-esteem, or our ability to form meaningful relationships. For some, those events will not have hindered their ability to live their lives as they would like to – but some can feel burdened by their experiences, or as though they are stuck in a rut; and that’s when counselling could help.

On the whole counselling is time-limited, but it can be open-ended if both parties agree. Generally, you will see the counsellor every week, although there can be some flexibility. There are several different “types” of counselling, but their core function is the same: to help identify how and why you are in the situation you are in and to think about changing that situation, should you wish to. There’s usually an implicit understanding that if you are seeking counselling you want things to change. Change is a big deal in all therapy, and wanting to change is a significant step towards achieving it.

Your counselling sessions will almost certainly involve talking about earlier life experiences, including childhood experiences, and linking them back to current concerns or difficulties. This is significant as the things we experience when we’re young mostly shape the way we view ourselves and others and that they will affect how we interact with the world around us.

Counselling is different from traditional psychotherapy. Psychotherapy tends to be longer term, and the therapist is likely to spend more time unearthing your unconscious emotions to find patterns in relationships or the ways in which you cope. After all, if you aren’t aware of those patterns of behaviour, how can you do anything to change them.

Counselling is based on similar principles to traditional psychotherapy but tends to be less intense. It will delve into early life experiences but in a less probing way, so many people find the idea of counselling less intimidating than psychotherapy. Crucially for many, it’s also usually cheaper. Counselling is often described as “talking therapy”, but it’s obviously more complex than that and a skilled counsellor should be able to help you open up about difficult experiences in a way that feels safe. It’s not unusual for people seeing a counsellor to talk about painful things and, as you’d expect, many people find that those conversations can provoke feelings of sadness and anger. The object is for those unpleasant feelings to be processed and understood in such a way that they stop having such a major impact on your day-to-day life.

We’re often taught to cope with unpleasant and traumatic experiences by “getting on with it”, and many people never really learn how to cope with powerful emotions such as anger or fear. People tend to seek counselling when they want something in their life to change – when they’re depressed, perhaps, or stressed, or when their relationships aren’t going well – and all change is difficult. For some it may be too difficult to change, or their circumstances may not allow them to do so – counselling is demanding and requires the ability to commit to regular appointments. But being in counselling should never be a burden.

Guardian 30 Dec 2015