What On Earth Is Counselling?
Hmm…where to start. I think as counsellors we are guilty of presuming people know what counselling is and what it involves. I could refer to it as a ‘talking therapy’ or a ‘psychological therapy’ which seem to be the popular terms used in the papers or on TV nowadays but really what do those definitions mean?
A quick straw poll of friends and acquaintances when asked to explain what counselling was revealed answers from “talking to someone you don’t know about your problems” to “chatting to someone who’s actually listening” (my personal favourite) to “talking to a professional listener”. So, which is correct? Well, I guess they all are in a way…
Counselling is a professional relationship between a client and their counsellor. Yes, it does involve the client talking and the counsellor listening but it’s more than just talking to someone you don’t know. Counselling usually takes place for a set amount of time (a counselling session) usually on a weekly basis and usually on the same day and time (but hey we’re human and flexible so this isn’t always the case). The focus of a counselling session can vary, but usually clients want to talk about a specific problem or concern that they feel is affecting the quality of their life. Sometimes though clients can’t put a name on the problem or concern; they just know they’re not feeling great, may be feeling down or feel a sense of hopelessness. The key point though is the client talks about what they want to talk about. The counsellor’s job is to make the client feel comfortable enough to talk to them by listening attentively, not judging what the client says and treating the client and what they wish to talk about respectfully.
As an aside……I nearly fell into counsellor jargon of using the words ‘safe space’ in that last paragraph but a good non-counsellor friend of mine looked at me puzzled last time I used that phrase and asked, “what’s an unsafe place then…somewhere with wires and things hanging around you might trip over?” Er no…not quite, for counsellors ‘safe space’ is the shorter way of saying ‘you can talk confidentially about what you need to here without being judged, criticised or told what to do’. I’m glad I remembered that conversation and how confusing some of that counselling jargon can be!
With a counsellor’s support the act of talking about things that concern you can help you gain a better understanding of how you’re feeling and help you come up with your own answers to the problems or concerns you’re dealing with. Or in the words of a young person I know, which I think probably explains it better than I ever could, “saying it out loud gets stuff out of your head and makes it less confusing as you can hear what you think”.