What is Counselling?
Counselling is defined as ‘the service of helping people to adjust to or deal with personal problems by enabling them to discover for themselves the solution to the problems while receiving attention from a counsellor.’ (Chambers Dictionary)
It is not possible or practicable to be ‘sent for counselling’. It has to be a voluntary process. Many people, when they first approach me, do so uncertain if this is a process by which they can be truly helped. The first words I often hear are, ‘You’ll think this is silly...’, ’I don’t really know why I’m here… , ‘I just can’t shift…’ or ‘I feel so guilty…’.
Counselling is frequently mentioned in the media, usually following a major disaster such as a rail crash or in relation to a celebrity with major personal issues. Because of this many people believe that counselling should only be sought to help deal with a dramatic situation. But this is not the case. Depression, bereavement, stress, relationships, anxieties or phobias, self image and many other cares and concerns – anything which adversely affects quality of life – are all issues often benefiting from counselling.
One aspect which cannot be stressed too strongly is that when a counsellor meets a client, it is in privacy and confidence. Confidentiality is fully discussed before embarking on the first session. Counsellors will not report back to other professionals, friends or family members.
Counselling is a process with a beginning, a middle and an end, where the counsellor facilitates an individual to consider the aspects of their life they wish to change.
The whole idea is to enable the client to explore a difficulty or distress which they may be experiencing, assisted by the counsellor whose main role is to facilitate the client to make his or her own decisions on how to proceed. It is not an environment where the counsellor will say what has to be done or even give advice. However, through this process the counsellor will endeavour to guide the client from feeling a victim of circumstances to feeling that they have more control over their life.
There are different models of counselling, differing routes or tools to enable the client to change. My practice is based on Transactional Analysis (TA) into which I integrate aspects of other models as well. TA is a model for understanding personality, relationships and communication. I use it because of its clarity and versatility. In TA counselling, people talk about their Parent, Adult and Child. These are distinctive parts of us all, available and necessary for living as a whole, integrated person. TA holds that everyone has intrinsic dignity and worth; they are ‘OK’. Everyone has the capacity to think. There is a commitment to change, to making decisions and taking personal responsibility for personal outcome.
Clarifying the problem and the desired change encourages the person to decide how they wish to be. Often unpacking one problem may reveal its connection to another. When people start the process of counselling they begin to experience the recurring patterns in their lives, to identify their negative feelings and how they play games and thereby limit themselves. A decision to make positive change is a further step. Someone may know what their goal is, but they have to decide to take positive action to achieve that goal.
The Counsellor offers support and facilitation on the basis that the client has decided what he or she feels…yet this is something that may also change!
The basic steps of counselling involve people in:
- gaining recognition for their skills and experience
- being confronted, from a caring position, by the ways they used to discount themselves and others
- re-experiencing, in the present, any relevant events from the past. This can help them to obtain emotional release from feelings or beliefs to which they may be clinging, that are stopping them from meeting their immediate needs.
Emphasis is given to feelings and thoughts, as stimuli for action and change. Support, challenge and practice are essential to enable all these steps to be achieved.
Counselling may comprise a few sessions, or it may take longer, but it does not go on for ever. In the end, the client is helped to find the tools to enable them to think, feel and behave in the way they desire, empowered without the counsellor’s support.
You must choose a reputable counsellor with a substantial level of training and experience. To find a professionally qualified counsellor, working within a strict code of ethics and practice, visit the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) web site for a list of accredited practitioners. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 0870 443 5252 or log on to www.counselling.co.uk. Another good source is Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland (COSCA). Contact them on 01786 475140, via e-mail on email@example.com or visit their website www.cosca.org.uk. Also, trust your instincts. You need to feel confidence in your counsellor.
Fiona Muirhead BA has a postgraduate diploma in Counselling and Communication. She works within the BACP code of ethics and is employed as a children’s counsellor for Family Mediation, where she also can offer some adult counselling if time allows. In addition she can be contacted by e- mail on fi.asco@ btopenworld.com.