What on earth is counselling?
- the Fairy tale version
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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”.
Couple counselling is often a last resort, the Cinderella service of counselling – when you both realise there is no glass slipper and that you need a Buttons to help you sweep out the hearth…
I think it’s a shame - Cinderella could be driving her own glass stage coach , handing over to the handsome prince only when she’s had enough, wants to kick off the dancing shoes, spread out the beautiful silk frock and curl up on the back seat, under her ermine cloak. The problem is it’s after midnight and the prince has morphed into a mouse and the mice that were dashing coachmen have given up, cos the prince got in first and so it goes on, the whole thing ends up a muddled mess of wheels off carts, squealing mice, muddied frocks erstwhile princes and worse and you don’t even remember why you went to the ball in the first place, never mind travelled in the same coach for so long!
Couple counselling is a chance to stop the coach, take off the fragile glass slippers, put the ball gown on a hot wash and decide whether you are a coachwoman/man, a prince/princess, a mouse, a same sex or non-sexual couple, or something else entirely.
If we climb out of the extended metaphor for a moment - as a couple it’s a huge decision to lay yourselves and your marriage bare to someone else’s scrutiny, but don’t let embarrassment or shame stop you from approaching a professional who may be able to help you relate to each other more easily, empathise with the others way of being and either help you be a couple again, or gracefully and with dignity uncouple, if that’s what’s needed.
Fairy tale endings aren’t the only conclusions to a relationship, sometimes it’s a lot more prosaic than that and a lot more fulfilling… and sometimes a Buttons and a hearth brush is all we need.