By Helen Preston, counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner.
People who come for counselling generally wish to understand either themselves or a situation, or both. The goal can, and often does, change as sessions progress, but therapy creates a safe, non-judgmental space where it is possible to discuss anything.
Current issues may spark off unresolved issues from the past. Areas of unhealed pain and suffering may come to the surface. When we as individuals try to process problems alone in our own heads, our viewpoint is often limited and we may feel stuck and hopeless. But therapy can offer a new perspective from which to find a solution.
The point is that we can only view the world from our own perspective, which is gained through experience. This may result in us thinking we are the only person in the world feeling the way we do and no one understands us or how we feel. It is a very lonely place to be.
But counselling offers an opportunity to be understood and, perhaps even more importantly, not to be judged simply for being who we are. After all, each one of us is a work in progress and has the capacity to grow and flourish. Therapy can help you move from merely surviving to thriving.
What should you expect?
The first session is often the hardest so it is important to feel at ease with your counsellor. You are seeing a stranger with the intention of sharing painful and intimate details about yourself and your life. I believe it is always important to acknowledge this situation and each client’s courage and vulnerability.
Therapy happens at a pace that the client dictates. It is like digging for a diamond and fresh insights are revealed as each new layer is exposed. So while it may not be possible to change the past, it can be healed. Such healing is a deeply personal process that clients are guided through by their therapist so they do not have to go it alone.
Only two things are required for the process to succeed: someone to speak their truth out loud and someone to hear it. Listening is key and it is vital for people to feel heard and for their therapist to be fully present as they experience often difficult emotions. This is about empathy not sympathy.
Counselling sessions last an hour and usually take place weekly, but the overall duration depends upon the issues and goals to be dealt with. As therapy progresses, sessions may take place at longer intervals, but flexibility is important.
What issues do I focus on personally?
My clients are aged 14 upwards and come from a wide range of backgrounds. The common thread that runs between them though is that they feel stuck or unable to resolve a particular issue, with many suffering from depression or anxiety as a result.
There can be any number of reasons why people end up feeling how they do, which includes both internal factors and external events. Life can be a tricky journey, but my aim is to walk this part of their life beside them.
As a result, I take an integrated approach and explore the present, past and possible future situations. Sometimes simply talking about an issue and sharing the emotions it evokes can be enough to generate positive change. At other times, the situation is more complex and requires a range of therapeutic approaches over a longer period of time.
But on other occasions, talking is simply not enough. At such points, it is often beneficial to use Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping) to help release energy from the body, aid relaxation and relieve stress, before reframing the problem so that hopefully the subconscious will let the issue go.
Why did I become a counsellor?
As long as I can remember, people have shared their secrets with me. Friends said they felt safe confiding in me. Strangers that I met only briefly would tell me about private matters, adding “I don’t know why I told you that.”
But I have always been genuinely interested in other people, their stories and their life experiences. I have also always been aware of my own inner world – that part of us so few of us get to know either within ourselves or within each other.
So over the years, I have built on this framework to develop further self-understanding not only by attending seminars and workshops, but also by reading or sitting in the silence of meditation. I have likewise learned much from experience and from ‘feeling’ things for myself.
But when my children were in their early teens, I came to a crossroads in my life: continue my career in law or take a different path? Stick to the familiar or delve into the unknown?
So I retrained as a counsellor. I learned how to understand my own subconscious, challenge my self-limiting beliefs and heal old wounds. I learned how to empower myself and gathered the tools to help empower others. This approach fitted with my core beliefs and values as I felt I could really be of service to others.
But I am also aware that, while knowledge can be acquired in many different ways, wisdom comes from within. From an early age, we are all taught to conform to everything from family rules and values to the social norms of our birth place, school, workplace, religion, government and so on.
Sometimes these things work for us and sometimes they do not. But ultimately, I believe humans are hardwired to be happy, which makes it necessary to sift through these learned rules and values in order to see what fits us now – and that is the true aim of therapy.
Helen Preston is a counsellor, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert and reiki practitioner. Her approach to therapy acknowledges the crucial inter-relationship of mind, body and spirit. Helen is a member of the National Counselling Society and has an Advanced Diploma in psychotherapy and counselling, a Diploma in Hypnotherapy and an EFT Master Practitioner certificate.