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If I were being perfectly honest, I suspect the answer is likely to be yes. Essentially, counselling provides dedicated time and space for people to talk about things that are concerning or troubling them – and that’s a luxury for many of us.
Talking therapies are better than pills, but you have to find the right one
Often people seek counselling for a specific reason, such as a bereavement or problems related to alcohol or drug use, but it doesn’t have to be related to a major life event. Many of us will have had difficult experiences at some stage of our lives that may have affected our self-esteem, or our ability to form meaningful relationships. For some, those events will not have hindered their ability to live their lives as they would like to – but some can feel burdened by their experiences, or as though they are stuck in a rut; and that’s when counselling could help.
On the whole counselling is time-limited, but it can be open-ended if both parties agree. Generally, you will see the counsellor every week, although there can be some flexibility. There are several different “types” of counselling, including approaches based on Freudian and Jungian analysis, but their core function is the same: to help identify how and why you are in the situation you are in and to think about changing that situation, should you wish (hint: there’s usually an implicit understanding that if you are seeking counselling you want things to change. Change is a big deal in all therapy, and wanting to change is a significant step towards achieving it).
It makes sense that the things we experience when we’re young will shape the way we view ourselves and others
Counselling will almost certainly involve talking about earlier life experiences, including childhood experiences, and linking them back to current concerns or difficulties. It’s a far cry from lying on the couch talking about the Oedipus complex – counselling almost always takes place with both counsellor and client sitting in chairs facing each other – but it makes sense that the things we experience when we’re young will shape the way we view ourselves and others and that they will affect how we interact with the world around us.
Counselling is slightly different from traditional psychotherapy, which often does involve lying on a couch. Psychotherapy tends to be longer term, and the therapist is likely to spend more time unearthing your unconscious emotions to find patterns in relationships or the ways in which you cope. After all, if you aren’t aware of those patterns of behaviour, how can you do anything to change them? It can take place anywhere from once to five times a week (the latter is usually described as psychoanalysis) but very few people have the time or money for psychoanalysis, and spending five hours a week in therapy is not something everyone can tolerate.
Dawn Gregory Counselling in Stevenage is based on similar principles to traditional psychotherapy but tends to be less intense. It will delve into early life experiences but in a less probing way, so many people find the idea of counselling less intimidating than psychotherapy. Crucially for many, it’s also usually cheaper. Counselling is often described as “talking”, but it’s obviously more complex than that and a skilled counsellor should be able to help you open up about difficult experiences in a way that feels safe. It’s not unusual for people seeing a counsellor to talk about painful things and, as you’d expect, many people find that those conversations can provoke feelings of sadness and anger. The object is for those unpleasant feelings to be processed and understood in such a way that they stop having such a major impact on your day-to-day life.
Are all psychological therapies equally effective? Don’t ask the dodo
In that sense, it’s easy to see why many people find being in counselling – or any therapy – difficult sometimes. We’re often taught to cope with unpleasant and traumatic experiences by “getting on with it”, and many people never really learn how to cope with powerful emotions such as anger or fear. People tend to seek counselling when they want something in their life to change – when they’re depressed, perhaps, or stressed, or when their relationships aren’t going well – and all change is difficult. For some it may be too difficult to change, or their circumstances may not allow them to do so – counselling is demanding and requires the ability to commit to regular appointments. But being in counselling should never be a burden.
One of the tensions of individual work is that, often, you can only help the person in counselling to change. Unless you’re doing couples or family therapy, it’s perfectly possible that their situation will remain the same. The benefit, though, can be in that person finding new, more helpful ways to manage it.
Not everyone is cut out to spend an hour a week talking about themselves to a stranger, and if you’re perfectly content with how your life and relationships have panned out, you might not give counselling a second thought. People tend to seek talking therapy when life has thrown them a curve-ball of some kind. So I should perhaps moderate my opening sentence by saying that although most of us could probably benefit from some kind of counselling, we may benefit from it at different stages of life. In my work as a psychologist I see older people, many of whom have simply “got on with life” for the first seven or eight decades, but for whom the impact of ageing and all that comes with it has been significant. Similarly, some people access talking therapy earlier in life and may never need it again. That doesn’t mean it’s a fix for all ills, or a rapid “cure”. But its impact can be significant.