(a 10 minute read)
Some people feel that counselling would be helpful for them but aren’t sure if their ‘problems’ are serious or important enough. Others are not sure if they would be able to ‘open up’ or put into words what is going on for them. Some discount the idea of having counselling because they don’t understand how it works or have been told things which may not be accurate. For others, it may be that they don’t think it will help their particular problems. All of these are natural and understandable and it’s why I wrote this to hopefully help you to decide if it’s right for you.
Whilst there are many modalities of counselling, as I work from a psychodynamic approach, this is the perspective I’ll be writing from. (I have used the terms counselling/ psychotherapy and therapy interchangeably as in this case they mean the same thing.)
So what are the reasons that people seek counselling? It would be impossible to give a list of everything that brings people to me, but the common threads are that they feel unhappy or stuck in their life and/ or relationships, or are struggling with some traumatic experiences. Sometimes they just want to make sense of the decisions they have made, paths they have taken, and would like a space where they can think about what they want out of their lives.
It is helpful if you can arrange to speak to a counsellor before booking an initial session. Most therapists are happy to talk to potential clients on the phone to discuss what they might like help with, and what it is they’re hoping for from counselling. This will allow you to form an initial idea of the counsellor and how they work. It also helps the counsellor to see if their particular way of working will suit you. It gives you both an opportunity to decide if some initial consultations would be useful. Having some no-obligation sessions initially, will give you both more time to see if working together would work before making a commitment.
I have heard it asked, how is talking to a counsellor/ psychotherapist different from talking to someone close to you? Someone close to you may not be objective; they are likely to have an emotional investment. The things you’re thinking might be too shocking, difficult or even hurtful for them to hear. It might be hard to be completely honest if you think it could affect your relationship or how you are perceived. These things aren’t relevant with a professional. You know that whatever you say, your therapist is only concerned with what it means for you and how it affects you. They are trained to help you to understand and make sense of whatever is troubling you. And they will keep the information confidential.
Let’s talk about coping mechanisms. When we experience difficult things, sometimes our minds try to protect us by putting those feelings into a metaphoric box and putting a lid on it. Whilst this can be helpful and actually essential in certain circumstances, for example, most of us have felt frustration or anger at work but have had to put those feelings aside in order to maintain our professional standing, and then have gone home and vented to our friends or family. Parents will often temporarily put their feelings aside in front of their children. This is all healthy. If those feelings are never taken out and experienced then they can become a problem.
So why do we lock some feelings away? Well, who really wants to feel difficult things? It can feel safer not to feel them. And that safe feeling can be addictive.
For example, a mother who experiences a miscarriage may put her sadness, grief, guilt, anger and all the feelings associated with such a loss into her ‘box’, so she can continue to be the mother she was. It feels good not to experience those difficult things so any further difficult feelings also go into the box. The box fills up and it becomes harder and harder to keep the lid on it, which can develop into a fear of feeling overwhelmed if that lid comes off. Does that sound familiar?
Sometimes, we are conditioned to put our feelings to one side as children. For example, the child of an emotionally absent mother (due to her own depression or parenting experiences) may lock their feelings away and focus on their mother in order to try to get her attention. This child can develop into an adult who is sensitive to the feelings of others but may struggle to acknowledge they have any of their own.
Keeping a lid on this ‘box’ of feelings is mentally hard work and can lead to depression and anxiety. Those feelings also have a habit of escaping and catching you unawares at unexpected moments. Have you ever felt tearful over something minor? Have you ever been irrationally angry – perhaps the root of many a road rage incident?
Sometimes we put mechanisms in place to protect us from the feelings in our ‘box’. We may sabotage relationships or not apply for promotions so we don’t have to risk feeling rejected. We can develop aggressive personas so no-one sees our vulnerabilities. The problem is these may work for a while but then the coping strategy itself can begin to cause us difficulties. We feel lonely as we don’t have close friends or romantic relationships. We feel unfulfilled at work. We feel like no-one really knows us and that can make us feel sad and invisible.
Counselling can help to uncover these deep rooted feelings and beliefs we have developed about ourselves, and with care your therapist will help you to work through them so that they no longer have the power to cause you problems. It provides a safe space to think, make sense of anything that is troubling you and finding new perspectives.
Who would not benefit from this type of counselling? If you are experiencing symptoms of severe depression, anxiety, OCD or suicidal thoughts it is recommended that you see your GP in the first instance and discuss your care with them. Ask if counselling/ psychotherapy would be helpful. If you have been diagnosed with a condition such as psychosis, schizophrenia or an affective disorder like bipolar then you should see a psychiatrist initially in order to correct it with medication before considering counselling. People who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder should also discuss counselling with their psychiatrist first and find a therapist who has been trained in MBT. Some people just do not want to talk or think about the root causes of their symptoms but want support in managing them, for them something like CBT or Cognitive Hypnotherapy may be more suitable. Remember, there is no right or wrong, just what may be best for you.
I hope this has been helpful.
If you are thinking about counselling and would like to discuss it, please do contact me.