Counselling provides a regular time and space for people to talk about their troubles and explore difficult feelings in an environment that feels safe and confidential. A counsellor should respect your viewpoint while helping you to deal with specific problems, cope with crises, improve your relationships, or develop better ways of living.
Despite the name, counsellors don’t usually offer advice. Instead, they help you to gain insight into your feelings and behaviour and to change your behaviour, if necessary. They do this by listening to what you have to say and commenting on it from their particular professional perspective.
You may come to counselling because of difficult experiences you’ve been going through, such as a relationship breakdown, bereavement or you may want help dealing with feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety or low self-worth that don’t seem to be connected to any particular event.
Counselling can also help you overcome mental health problems, such as depression or an eating disorder, even if you are already getting other kinds of help from a GP or psychiatrist. It can also help you come to terms with an on-going physical problem, illness or disability. Counselling can also be a means of coping with physical symptoms or complaints that doctors can’t alleviate. If your GP can’t find a physical cause for your problems, you may want to look further to see whether there is a psychological side to your symptoms.
Client-centred or person-centred counselling is based on the principle that the counsellor provides three 'core conditions' (or essential attributes) that are, in themselves, therapeutic. These are:
- empathy (the ability to imagine oneself in another person's position)
- unconditional positive regard (warm, positive feelings, regardless of the person's behaviour)
- congruence (honesty and openness).
Again, the counsellor uses the relationship with the client as a means of healing and change.
Some people feel an immediate sense of relief when they begin counselling, maybe because they are being listened to for the first time, or because they have been struggling for a long time. Other people may feel more anxious or distressed when they start, because they have to pay attention to difficult feelings that, in some way, they would prefer to ignore. In this situation, they may feel worse before they start to feel better. It’s always best to share with the counsellor any concerns you have about how you are reacting to the counselling.