What Actually is Counselling?

Recently my life has just been counselling galore and I don’t mean me as the client, I mean me as the therapist! Or a trainee one anyway. I have been eating, sleeping and breathing it after I started training for my new placement as well as handing in my third and final essay (how has this masters gone that quick?!) and obviously continuing to attend lectures. So, with my life revolving around counselling and having mentioned it multiple times on my blog without going into any depth, I thought it could be helpful to write about what counselling actually is, where to access it and how it can help.

First of all, I’m going to share with you what to expect and what not to expect from a therapist:

WHAT TO EXPECT:

  • A feeling of being listened to
  • Feeling understood
  • A safe place to explore thoughts and feelings
  • No judgement

WHAT NOT TO EXPECT:

  • Being told what to do
  • A quick fix
  • That you won’t have to do the hard work
  • The therapist as the expert who has all the answers

Choosing a therapist can be like choosing a pair of shoes: you have to find the right one that fits you. Sometimes therapeutic relationships don’t work and that’s ok. But, as a client myself, the things I always expect from a therapist is that I am listened to and that they get me. I want to be able to say things to them that I couldn’t say to anybody else and not feel like what I’ve just said is bonkers. That being said, it’s also important to know that although a counsellor will not tell anybody else what you bring to sessions, there are certain times when they may have to. This can be if you or somebody else is at risk of harm or if you disclose something like: “I’m going to rob a bank after we’re done”. When you meet your therapist for the first time, they should talk about this with you and let you know when information will be passed on.

A therapist isn’t supposed to give you advice and tell you what you should do in a situation but to explore your thoughts and feelings with you and get you thinking about how you yourself could make the changes in your life. Now, it’s important to note that I am writing this from a person-centred therapist’s point of view. This means that I believe the client is the expert in the counselling session and that I will not direct the client; I will only go as far as they want and discuss what they feel ready and comfortable to. This may work for some people but others may want more direction and for their thoughts to be challenged which is mainly what our NHS uses otherwise known as CBT.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) is often used over a short period of time and can be the form of therapy used when you are referred to a Primary Mental Health Care service by your GP with anxiety or depression. This is what I have for my OCD. It’s useful in the sense that my therapist and I look at the thought process behind things and how I can challenge them. It’s very much focused on the here and now and changing my behaviour. In this sort of therapy, it’s not unlikely that you will be sent away with homework and tasks to complete which can work for some people but is something I struggle to find motivation for.

CBT (and occasionally person-centred therapy at that) can be accessed through the NHS by going to your GP and being referred. On the one hand, this is great because it means you don’t have to pay for sessions but it can mean waiting for a long period of time to be seen. People in the UK are aware that resources for mental health in the NHS are lacking and this can mean there aren’t enough therapists to go around. I waited for my CBT for around 5 months but there are other ways of accessing counselling. For example, you can have a look on the following websites and search for a therapist that sounds like they could work for you:

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/

http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/

The upside of doing this is that you have more freedom to choose a therapist than you would going through the NHS and maybe even have better luck with being seen sooner. The only downfall to this option is that you do have to pay for your sessions which can in some cases be expensive. Some counsellors do offer concessions for people that are struggling money wise or offer a cheaper rate when sessions are booked in blocks so it’s always a good idea to ask. Other places that you can access counselling (if they offer it) could be within your workplace and at your school/college/university. Again, it could be that there’s a waiting list but it is really great having access to those free options as a student.

If you are struggling and can’t be seen by a counsellor as quickly as you’d like, there are always support groups that run in your local area. A good way to find these I would say is going through Mind. By using this amazing charity’s website, you can search for your local branch where they can offer support in the form of various courses you can attend (e.g. anger management), peer support groups where you can talk to others in a similar situation, walking groups or even drop in sessions to name but a few things on offer in my own local branch. There are loads of ways to find out about support groups, even the good old fashioned ways like posts in shop windows!

I hope this information may have made people more aware of what’s on offer and that you don’t have to go through a shit time alone. It’s only really within the last few years that I have learnt about how much there really is out there supporting those of us with mental health illnesses that don’t involve sitting on a waiting list for the NHS and they really need to be publicised more! I wish I had had all this information earlier in life when I was first diagnosed with OCD for instance; it really could’ve helped make an isolating experience so much less scary.

Important numbers:

Samaritans: 116 123

ChildLine: 0800 1111

NHS 111 (non-emergency number)

Emergency Services: 999

Your GP is also there to talk to and discuss other options with if you feel you are getting worse or not getting the help you so deserve.

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