So here it is, my first ever blog. Wish me luck!!
I was spending time thinking about what to write for my first blog and then realised of course, that this is as much a space for you as it is for me… This in mind, I conducted a survey for people to tell me about their experiences with Counselling and to point out areas they would like to know more about. Pretty much everyone had some questions about Counselling and it was apparent to me that my first blog needed to be about sorting fact from fiction, to help dispel misunderstandings and common preconceptions. I also want to shed some light on the workings of a counselling session and how it works from a counsellor’s point of view.
Up until about 8 years ago I had a pretty judgemental and somewhat fearful view on therapy, and taking the first step to actually see a counsellor was a big one. Still, I plucked up my courage and gave it a go. This sparked the beginning of a journey for me, a journey that I am still on.
After enduring those first few sessions, I started to realise just how good it was for me and how it allowed me to express myself in ways I had never been able to before. It worked so well that I discovered my own love for therapy and it helped me to make the decision to start training to be a Counsellor. And here I am.
Like me, I’m sure there are many people out there that have similar fears and misunderstandings about Counselling. Over the years, there has been a massive stigma about mental health and therapy for it. If we look back to the 1950’s, only people with severe psychosis were considered to be “mentally ill” whereas nowadays we know that mental illness is an incredibly broad term and can encompass anything from mild depression and anxiety, to the more extreme, such as schizophrenia or the very rare multiple personality disorder.
1 in 4 people in the UK experience some kind of mental illness over the course of a year. Depression and anxiety are probably the most common forms of mental illness but what about the people that don’t suffer from a mental illness? What else is counselling good for?
While counselling is great for mental illness, it is important to recognise that one of its main functions is to increase a person’s self-awareness, understanding and acceptance. The relationship between counsellor and client is a very unique relationship as it’s built upon honesty, understanding and cultivates intrigue into the client and their inner world.
I find the google definition of the word “Relationship” very interesting:
“The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected”
Counselling is all about looking at, in great detail, the relationships in our lives. Providing the counsellor creates the right conditions, the counselling relationship can be a fantastic model of a “good” relationship and this can be used to understand how other relationships work. Due to there being honesty and an absolute respect for a client’s autonomy, this allows a client to see themselves through the counsellor who acts just like a mirror. It’s my job as a counsellor to provide a mirror that is untarnished by my own opinions or judgements and to show back to the client as real a reflection of them as possible. This includes what I notice and what I feel, providing these are fed back in a gentle and non-judgemental way, these can be vital clues in learning to understand yourself.
The reason the counselling relationship is so different is that many relationships in our lives can contain a very unreal element. Quite often when we ask for someone’s opinion, we are asking with an agenda in mind, and often the response will be tarnished by what they think they should answer with rather than their honest opinion. Much of the time these things go on without us even realising it. This links very much to approval seeking, a big topic and one perhaps for a separate blog.
A personal favourite of mine, Byron Katie, has an interesting perspective on friends and enemies:
“If I see an enemy, I need to take another look, because that is my friend, not my enemy. Enemies enlighten me to myself. That makes them friends. In the world of the personality, friends are people who agree with you and enemies are people that are honest with you...”
I think we can take a lot from this. I don’t mean to say that a counsellor becomes an enemy, but for me the message is about being honest and taking responsibility for ourselves. Yes the truth can hurt. Yes it might be uncomfortable to acknowledge certain things about ourselves. But it is by accepting these things about us that leads the way to real happiness. We are all made of light and dark, yin and yang, positive and negative and the counselling relationship will help you to accept all parts of yourself, even the bits you would rather not accept, or even the bits you never even knew existed. And the reason this works is because you are given the space to explore your inner world by someone that will allow you to explore it without imposing their self on you. It takes courage and commitment, but the benefits of knowing yourself are second to none.