What makes counselling different to other helping relationships?
A new client once asked me “How can just talking about my problems fix them?”, I replied “It can’t, but it’s a place to start.” And personally, for me talking is just the start of what helps during counselling.
Counsellors do not endeavour to ‘fix’ a client’s problems, what we do aim for is to create a relationship built on trust and mutual respect. Creating a space for clients to explore and untangle their problems, helping them to explain and understand how they are feeling.
For both client and counsellor their counselling relationship is a unique experience, and for the client quite possibly a type of relationship never experienced before. Sitting face to face with another person who is there just for you, without expectations, judgements or demands being placed upon you, is a relationship not readily found in day to day life. The importance of this relationship has been well identified in past and current research into the effectiveness of talking therapies.
If you were to look into a counselling room, it may seem that the client is talking and the counsellor simply listening. However, what helps the client in counselling, is what they receive from this special, therapeutic relationship. Empathy, respect, positive regard and understanding. These are the conditions that the counsellor seeks to offer the client. And for clients, many who are suffering from poor self-worth or anxiety surrounding personal responsibility, this can be a self-affirming process. It is these very conditions that create and sustain the therapeutic alliance, supporting the client to unravel the knots of their life, which in turn can help to bring about positive change.
There is an assortment of different approaches when discussing talking therapies, and this at times can seem overwhelming for counsellors, let alone clients seeking help.
However, regardless of a chosen theory of therapy, I would hope an emphasis on building a strong therapeutic relationship sits at the forefront of the counsellor’s mind; as the values that build this alliance appear to me to be the very essence of what is helpful for our clients.