What is counselling and how does it work?
"All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why" - James Thurber (1894-1961)
"The only question which matters is, “Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?”" - Carl Rogers (1902-87)
The 'outcomes' we get in our day-to-day lives, are in large a measure the result of our internal psychological processes and our beliefs about ourselves and the world; whilst we may not always understand it to be the case, we are in reality the authors of our destiny in a great many respects.
By re-evaluating, with the help of an able counsellor, our current day-to-day psychological processes and inherent beliefs to assess the extent to which these serve - or impede - us in meeting our goals, we can arrive at different outcomes in life to those we are currently experiencing.
A significant part of the role of counsellor - as an impartial 'observer' of the life and current circumstances of you, the client - is to render your existing psychological processes (ways of thinking) and beliefs accessible for examination and re-evaluation by you, so that you can change them if you so wish.
Often times a good many of our processes and beliefs are operating below the threshold of our conscious awareness, but having a huge sway on our 'way of being' in the world nonetheless. Counselling is in large part about becoming 'self-aware' of our internal world so that we can decide to what extent it is helping or hindering us in having the life we want for ourselves.
As former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, noted famously - and to some amusement at the time - when he spoke of "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns", it's not so much the things which we know we're ignorant of that we should really get concerned about - it's the things we're unaware of not knowing that can really cause havoc for us!
Counselling is an effective way of bringing our 'unknown unknowns' into our conscious awareness.
My counselling approach is strongly informed by the humanistic school of psychotherapy pioneered by Carl Rogers (1902-87). In essence, the Rogerian "person-centred" psychotherapeutic approach is that you, the client, have all the answers to the problems in your life within you and that these answers can be unlocked by you with the help of an effective therapist who really listens and who is empathic, real and totally non-judgmental. Once you, the client, hear for yourself, with the counsellor's help, just how you really think and operate in your day-to-day life, you are then in a position to make changes that will bring positive benefits.
What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?
There is no generally recognised definition of counselling that could not equally well define psychotherapy - and vice versa. However, there is some consensus that counselling tends to work more on specific, carefully defined issues, usually over a fairly short timescale, whilst psychotherapy implies a much broader examination of existential concerns and personal difficulties, possibly over an extended time frame. I work with clients looking for both types of therapy.
Counselling: When is it helpful?
As we all know, life is not always plain-sailing – sometimes it gets pretty difficult, and sometimes the difficult patches can last much longer than we would like. There are even times when the difficult patches seem about to swallow us whole. Counselling is of real value at these times – helping to break the log-jam of confusion and moving us forward to a better emotional place.
Counselling can also be of significant assistance even at times when life is relatively good – helping us to define future goals and directions and teasing out what it is that will give our life real meaning and purpose, thus fostering our sense of well-being.
Psychotherapy: When is it helpful?
Psychotherapy offers a safe space to address deep emotional hurts and traumas from the past – issues that typically cannot be addressed by talking to friends, family or even partners. It allows us the opportunity to face up to issues that have seemed too shameful or painful – things that we feel others might reject us over if they were to find out about them. Equally, psychotherapy provides the forum for us to approach subjects which many or even most people would have great difficulty listening to or understanding, because the therapist is trained to hear our story compassionately and with respect, offering both understanding and appropriate support. The 'aim' of psychotherapy is to render us as 'fully-functioning' as possible; that is to say, comfortable in our own skin in almost every situation that life can throw at us, having shed problem inhibitions, unnecessary hang-ups and destructive patterns of behaviour.
So, what's right for YOU?
I would suggest to anyone thinking of therapy, especially anyone who is unsure whether it is for them, to read as widely as feels appropriate about counselling and psychotherapy and what makes for effective therapy. There are plenty of good articles available on the web. Also, although regrettably access to this article is now via subscription to The Times website only, here is a thought-provoking contributing journalist's very personal view on counselling from The Sunday Times's Health section. You may also be interested in the findings of this recent research on attitudes to counselling and psychotherapy in modern-day Britain. Finally, you may want to watch this short video about depression: even if you do not yourself feel depressed, it neatly summarises the route to liberation from many of the problems that people can feel dogged by in day-to-day life.
It is possible that the biggest question mark for you regarding embarking on therapy is a concern about whether it is genuinely possible to make significant personal changes that improve your overall quality of life. Personally, my experience after helping scores of clients make exactly those changes is categorically 'Yes, you can'. However, change definitely requires work, courage and a willingness to appraise things honestly and openly.
You don't have to take my word that change is possible for you (by this point I'm aware you're quite conceivably saying to yourself "Well, of course, he would say it's possible, wouldn't he?"!) Try an Internet search engine search such as 'is personal change really possible?' and read the wealth of articles. Or you can start right now by reading this discussion in The Guardian looking at the question (looked at via the slant of New Year's Resolutions), and the viability of making significant personal changes.
Alternatively, you could read about the ten essential character traits for a happy life or the thirteen human qualities needed to succeed in life (and, yes, this latter piece is written for an audience of business professionals, but its recommendations hold just as true for us as individuals and family members seeking to thrive in life, as well as those seeking to thrive at work). All these character traits and qualities can be learned, and effective counselling/psychotherapy enables you to remove the psychological obstacles that you've put in place over the years, the ones preventing you from mastering the traits and qualities you require to blossom.
Once you feel that you are motivated to make real changes and have a clear notion of what type of therapy is right for you, I suggest you find at least three therapists local to you who you find potentially interesting and go and meet with each one individually, and find out with which one you have the best 'chemistry'. Feeling at ease with the therapist you finally decide to work with is extremely important to the likelihood of you finding therapy beneficial.
Simon Arthur-Smith Counselling - please get in touch
If you have further questions or you wish to book your appointment, please get in touch, I am always happy to answer any questions you may have.
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