Counselling FAQ

Who gets to hear what I say?

When you come to counselling, you need to know you are free to express what you cannot say elsewhere. It is therefore a key principle that only the counsellor gets to hear what you have to say. As the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy puts it: ‘Respecting client confidentiality is a fundamental requirement for keeping trust.’ (http://www.bacp.co.uk/ethical_framework/).

However, as a counsellor I am also ethically committed to acting in my client’s best interests. If you were at grave risk of harming yourself or others, you would clearly need a greater level of support than counselling could provide. It may well become important for your particular needs to be made known beyond the counselling room, but we would talk about this together before seeking that support through any outside disclosure.

What approach can I expect?

Counsellors offer various approaches and emphases in their client work. However, research has shown that the underlying quality of the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client itself is at the heart of effective counselling. So if you are looking for the right counsellor for you, it is important to bear in mind not only their approach, but also your own sense of whether you could work together.

My core counselling approach is psychodynamic. This means that I particularly listen for the ways your formative relationships may connect with how you act and respond now, both outside and within the counselling situation. We often develop patterns of behaviour of which we have become largely unconscious, but which hold great sway over how we are living our lives – for good or ill. By gaining insight into these patterns, they become accessible for you to make choices for creative change.

Though I work from this understanding, each client is an individual, and I have gained experience in drawing on other approaches where this is personally appropriate. The balance between the space needed to express present feelings, explore their past origins, and engage with future options may vary from client to client and shift over the course of the counselling.

How will I know if it’s helping?

Counselling is very much a personal process.

You may experience an immediate sense of relief as you talk out things you have been carrying ‘bottled up’ for whatever reason. You may feel lighter after a session.

On the other hand, counselling may stir up difficult issues or insights you have previously buried (precisely because they are difficult). In the short term, if a session leaves you feeling more fragile, be kind to yourself over the next 24 hours.

Just as it can be painful, but necessary, to treat a wound to bring about healing, so in counselling things may feel worse before they get better. It can be tempting to stop counselling straightaway when this happens, but it is better to come back and talk through how you are feeling. Both counsellor and client need to take such feelings into account. It may be, for example, that the work needs to go at a gentler pace.

Longer term, counselling may bring various benefits:

  • A clearer understanding of yourself
  • An unscrambling of situations that felt overwhelming or perplexing
  • A fresh focus on where you want to do things differently
  • An ability to put some new strategies into practice

Other changes less easy to pin down, but no less real, may include:

  • A deeper sense of well-being
  • Greater peace of mind about what cannot be changed
  • Increased self-worth
  • Renewed confidence in your abilities

Although such changes are generally noticed first by others, eventually we should feel the benefit ourselves.

How long does counselling last?

Some people find that once they actually make the space to stop and reflect in counselling, they can gain the clarity they need within a very few sessions. Counselling helps them get back in touch with their true selves and their own resources, and they soon know the direction they wish to take.

Others find that coming to counselling for one problem unearths a related deeper issue that needs more time and attention to resolve, but which holds the key to the difficulty on the surface.

For this reason I seek to incorporate a regular review within the counselling sessions, so we can assess progress and clarify what further work is needed.

How does counselling come to an end?

Counselling ends when you feel you have made as much progress as you need, wish or are able to make.

This may mean that:

  • The issue that originally brought you to counselling has been resolved
  • You have reached a place where you are comfortable and choose to stop
  • You wish to consolidate the work you have done into your everyday living, with the possibility of using counselling again if appropriate

You find you will become aware when counselling has helped you as much as it usefully can: ideally your counsellor will sense this too.

It is best if you plan your last appointment in advance, rather than simply finishing at the time. Endings raise interesting issues in themselves, as they are linked to loss, change and independence. It can be well worth reflecting on what they mean to you, and how you can make a good ending, in counselling and beyond.

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