I don’t believe in counselling!

I often hear people say, ‘I don’t believe in counselling, it’s a waste of time and money!’

My first reaction is to wonder whether these people have experienced counselling and understand what it is about, or if they have and have had a bad experience elsewhere written off the whole counselling world.

I also hear some people criticize counselling as being inhabited by a particular breed of person, who apparently floats through life in a state of eternal happiness and optimism, and is categorised as some modern day hippy, who can’t face up to the harsh realities of life so sends clients away with some platitudes whilst avoiding anything unpleasant.

I have to say that based on my experience as a counsellor that I have only ever had to deal with what is to each client something which is not only unpleasant, but deeply painful, something they have perhaps lived with for some time, and something which makes their lives a misery.

My experience of counsellors is that we are a highly trained group of professionals who are prepared to sit with and experience the depth of a client’s pain, to try to walk in their footprints and experience and empathise with their suffering and to stay with them as they struggle to find a way forward and away from this life of suffering. This is a profession not for the faint-hearted, and one in which those harsh realities of living with a mental health issue appears every time a new client walks through the door.

Some people think counselling is like little more than a chat with a well-meaning friend or relative, something to be sorted over a quick coffee!  I then think back to chats I have had with friends, perhaps over a coffee or lunch, and this is on a different level, perhaps talking about other friends, holidays, but very much on a level which avoids delving too deep into personal problems.

If you think about it, if you did tell a friend you were having some mental health problems how might they react? Whilst I might hope they would show understanding and compassion, I suspect many would do the equivalent of running away fast in the opposite direction. As one client told me, once he had started to recover, he recalled those few friends who had stayed in touch with him but the majority had kept their distance, almost as though his mental health issues were contagious!

So, no, counselling is not like having a chat with a friend, even if you are lucky enough to have a friend who might be prepared to share your emotional pain. And how much might you be willing to share with a friend, as there is often a fear that this will find its way to other people, so your struggles are out in the open. And why would a friend know what might work for you? Their well-meaning solution might make sense to them but perhaps is a million miles away from what might work for you.

So what is real counselling? It is within a specific timeframe, perhaps 50 minutes per week. Unlike talking to a friend there is a cost for counselling and I charge a client every time they come to see me.  It is confidential so a client, once they feel safe with me, will start to share their innermost feelings. It is non-judgemental, so I want my clients to feel that they can tell me anything and that I will not be shocked by it. It is mainly non-directive, so I will not sit a client down and say, ‘Ah yes, I know what your problem is, and just do this, this and this and it will all the right!’ And above all else, it treats each client as an individual, so their experience of their challenges is unique to them and so is the solution each will come to.

So for anyone who still thinks counselling is a soft-touch I would be happy to disabuse them of this thought, but for those individuals who perhaps having heard this think counselling is not for them, just say don’t assume what you have heard is right, just try it and see how it might work for you.

Leave a Reply