Making the decision to find a counsellor and walk through the door of that first session can be extremely hard. For some, the anxiety they feel can lead them to wonder ‘is it really worth it?’ But why can the thought of seeing a counsellor or therapist cause so much anxiety, after all, if we have a physical pain, we often don’t think twice about seeing a GP – why should our
mental and emotional health be any different?
A number of myths about counselling appear to be rife and I wonder how much these misunderstandings play on people’s minds and lead to a reluctance to seek help and support? In this month’s blog I will be looking at ten of these myths and attempt to ‘put things straight’ in terms of what counselling is and what it isn’t. My hope is that people may read it and be encouraged to pursue the seeking of counselling support if they need it as opposed to be deterred by the myth.
Myth 1 - All counselling is the same AKA it didn’t work once it won’t work again
Every single person on the planet is unique (thank goodness!) and so are their experiences, needs and preferences. What works for your best friend, relative or neighbour won’t necessarily be best for you, and that’s cool because difference is exciting and important. As such, there isn’t just one sort of counselling and within different types (or modalities) of counselling, every counsellor practices their modality in their own unique way. Just because you have had a bad experience with one counsellor, or not found one counsellors’ way of working useful, doesn’t mean that counselling will never work for you. Check out reputable directories of counsellors (such as BACP directory, Counselling directory or Psychology Today directory ) read the different counsellors’ blurbs, see which speak to you, call them up, see who you connect with – the therapeutic relationship is key to successful counselling work.
Myth 2 – I can just talk to family and friends about my problem, I don’t need to see a stranger
While friends and family members can provide enormous amounts of support, sometimes they know us too well and it can be hard to be completely honest with them for fear of offending them, being helped to their agenda or fear of being compared or judged.
The fact that your counsellor does not know you enables them to be neutral, objective and non-judgemental as well as being able to offer a different perspective from outside the issue you are bringing. A counsellor has no vested interest in your plans or decisions and so can actively listen to whatever you choose to share. A counsellor has specialist skills and training to support you in making your own decisions, empowering you to make your own choices and take responsibility for them.
Myth 3 – All counsellors do is nod and agree
While it might appear that a counsellor just sits there and agrees with you, there is so much more going on. Counsellors are putting themselves in your shoes so they can fully appreciate how you have experienced what has brought you to counselling. This involves active listening – hearing what you do say and noticing what you don’t mention. It involves observing your body language and micro-movements to notice when there is a subtle shift in your emotions and energy in the room and ensuring you are feeling safe and not, for example, moving into panic. They are monitoring their own feelings to ensure their own ‘stuff’ doesn’t cloud how they experience what you are saying. They are considering when to sit in silence to enable you to take in what has been shared, when and what to reflect back to you and when to challenge– all without taking away the client’s ability to develop their own self-awareness and sense of empowerment to make their own decisions.
Myth 4 – Counselling is only for people with serious mental illness
This myth is where a lot of the stigma around going to a counsellor originates. However, the vast majority of people attending counselling, do so simply because they are experiencing some sort of difficulty or problem within their everyday life. When something is experienced as overwhelming and outside of a person’s ability to cope then this is stress and it can be debilitating – both physically and emotionally, and my view is that anybody who notices they are in their ‘stress pit’ and have the courage to seek support to climb out of it is truly brave and should not be left feeling that their bravery is weakness or negative.
Counselling can be beneficial for everyone. Whether you are seeking support for everyday matters such as workplace stress or relationship difficulties, life events such as bereavement or loss, or mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety, counselling can help clients take back control of their lives and enable them to view their problems with a clarity and compassion.
Myth 5 – Medication is more effective than therapy, I will just go to my G.P
It is true that medication can help alleviate the symptoms of many mental health conditions and enable people to participate actively in life including the process of counselling. However, more and more frequently medication is also reported to ‘deal with symptoms and not the root of problems’ leading to a revolving door of diagnosis and medication. This medicalisation of mental health and an over-reliance on pills to solve our problems, takes away an individual’s power to believe that, given the right environment, they have the knowledge of self, tools and choice to identify their own goals, and realise the root of issues in their lives. More and more research is now showing that talking therapies can equal if not exceed the benefits of medication. Both counselling and medication have their benefits and disadvantages and it is important to take these into account by each individual considering their own specific needs when considering which form, or combination of forms will bring about positive change.
Myth 6 - Counselling is easy
When I first meet a client, I always give a little health warning – ‘counselling is hard and you will likely feel worse before you feel better’. I don’t say this to scare or put people off, its just true. Most client’s report feeling tired or drained after a counselling session, often noticing that a few days after a session they have had a dip in mood, or been occupied by things discussed during the session. But why? Surely the point of counselling is to get it all out? Well yes, but often clients have spent a long time (even decades) pushing down, ignoring or distracting themselves from the issue they are bringing and when they begin to open that box and explore it, all the feelings that have been pushed down with it pop up too. Counselling takes bravery, resilience and strength to confront our own fears or vulnerabilities; it is hard work but is so worth it
Myth 7 -Counselling is just talking by about my childhood and blaming my parents for everything
While some people benefit from exploring their childhood and past relationships, the truth is that counselling is tailored to meet the unique situation you find yourself in and can be more about looking at your thoughts, feelings and behaviours in current everyday life rather than uprooting the past.
That said, certain types of counselling, such as psychodynamic based therapies base a lot of focus upon the past and childhood attachments, whereas other modalities such as cognitive-behavioural therapy focus primarily on the here and now. In Person-centred counselling, the focus and direction of the counselling is dictated by you, whilst integrative counsellors combine aspects of different modalities depending on what you bring and the type of support you want. It is therefore important for you to consider what your needs are and which modality would meet this best and then talk this through with your therapist to ensure they are trained in the means to meet your needs.
Myth 8 - Counselling is only effective if it is face to face
It is true that face-to-face counselling, where a client travels to a counsellor’s place of work is the typical view of counselling, but in reality there are many different forms of counselling. Counselling has adapted to help fit therapy into people’s modern lives. For example, the impact of Covid-19 lock downs and restrictions has seen the uptake of telephone and online counselling on forums such as Zoom and Skype increase dramatically. Research into the effectiveness of electronic therapy, is positive. And it cannot be ignored that electronic communication is a great means of reaching out to people who live in smaller, remote communities or may face difficulties travelling to a location and meeting face-to-face.
Another form of counselling which is growing in popularity is walking therapy, where instead of meeting in a counselling room, a client and counsellor meet at an agreed place such as a park, woods or town landmark and walk side-by-side for the duration of the session in the outdoors whilst talking about whatever brings the client to counselling. Walking therapy has many benefits such as:
· client and counsellor meeting on neutral ground and thus equalising the power dynamic,
· incorporating gentle exercise which releases endorphins and increases blood flow to the brain which can help our brain function better in for example, problem-solving,
· the rhythm of walking supporting a meditative state which regulates breathing and lowers stress hormones and
· the ability to utilise the calm, beauty and wonder of nature to inspire and support connectedness, self-awareness and growth
(for more information about walking therapy see my website www.sian-clairecounselling.com)
Myth 9- Counsellors can read minds
Although it can seem that counsellors can read your mind, the truth is that, counsellors work very hard to understand your perspective, step into your shoes so that they can feel the world through your skin. Counsellors do this by listening closely to what you say and noticing subtle movements and changes in behaviour. For example, if someone is discussing something painful, they may look down, fold their arms around them or move their feet in a way that indicated they want to get away. Counsellors are trained to notice these micro-movements and reflect them back – not to impress or to try and catch you out, but to bring these into your awareness and to gain a deeper insight into you. In doing this, it can feel like the counsellor is seeing into your soul or reading your mind but they are simply experiencing your world as you do. Saying this, they are only truly able to do this if you talk about them!
Myth 10 - Therapists are experts who have their lives sorted
It can sometimes feel that way, but this one is definitely a myth! The truth is that whilst no counsellor has experienced exactly what you have, most counsellors have come to counselling with a deep-rooted need to help because of their own experiences. The term ‘wounded healer’ created by the psychologist Henri Nouwen, states that counsellors are often compelled to help clients because the counsellor themselves carry wounds from their past. As a qualified practitioner, and one who adheres to an ethical framework, part of working ethically is to ensure self-care, which involves not just physical wellbeing but also emotional wellbeing, which in turn may mean, at times, seeing a counsellor themselves! It is true that counsellors should be professional and work in a way in which puts the client central to the process, meaning disclosures about themselves which detract from the client’s needs are minimal and so they appear as ‘all-together’ individuals, in reality, they are just human-beings as opposed to human-doings – just like you!
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For more about telephone, online and walking counselling offered by Sian-Claire Counselling go to www.sian-clairecounselling.com
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