Healing approaches

Counselling: Answers to frequently-asked questions

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By Helen Preston, counsellor.

Counselling can prove to be a confusing and anxiety-provoking experience if you are new to it and do not know what to expect. So here are some answers to a number of frequently-asked questions to help you on your way:

Why go to a counsellor?

There are many reasons why you may want to speak to a counsellor. We are all human and things can be difficult. Certainly, it is unlikely you will be able to move through your entire life without facing some challenges.

The benefit of a counsellor in this scenario is that they will ‘walk beside you’ during the most trying times. They will sit with you in your grief, pain, frustration, confusion and desperation and be there to hear you – really hear you.

They will listen to you in a way that your friends and family are unable to do. They will attend to what you are saying compassionately and look upon your situation with gentle eyes, not offering answers but helping you find your own solutions.

Experiencing isolation can be soul-destroying. Feeling like a failure because you are unable to find your way out of your difficulties is a commonplace experience. Life is messy and humans are complex, but thankfully we are not our problems. We are far more than that. We can thrive despite the greatest setbacks and the most devastating experiences. Even if it is not possible to change the situation, counselling can help lead you to acceptance.

If your thoughts keep traveling back to the past and you continue wishing that things had been different, it can lead to low moods and depression. If your thoughts constantly look to the future and you imagine thousands of different scenarios, most of which will never happen, it can cause fear, anxiety and depression.

Counselling helps you to become more aware of where your thoughts are taking you, which in turn offers you more choices. Although we are much more than our thoughts alone, if we spend all day in our heads, it can feel like a lonely and scary place to be. Sharing these thoughts can be a liberating experience. While it is not easy, if you can find the right counsellor for you, it could prove easier than you think.

How do I find a counsellor?

Where can you turn to if you need help with a specific issue, whether past or present? Who can you trust with that hurt or vulnerable side of yourself you have been afraid to share with friends or loved ones? How can you know for certain that you will not be judged?

These are usually the first questions that people ask themselves when considering counselling. But the role of a therapist is to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore your feelings and to say out loud what you have been keeping locked away inside, often for a long time.

If you type the word ‘counselling’ into a search engine, you will see lots of options. Go with your instinct. Who feels right for you? Understand that you are in the driving seat and can decide to end counselling sessions or chose a different therapist at any time.

The relationship that you build with your counsellor will be one of the keys to successful therapy. It is one built on trust and mutual respect that develops and grows over the time of your sessions together.

It gives you a place to be seen and heard for exactly who you are without having to think about how your words are affecting the other person. That other person, your counsellor, will never try and make you take responsibility for their feelings in a way that a loved one can. They will never impose their opinion on you in the way a friend may do. That is why therapy can prove to be such a liberating and healing experience.


What is the best type of counselling for me?

It can be quite confusing for people when they read different counsellor’s profiles and see that different professionals offer different types of therapy. While counsellors will be familiar with specialist terminology, it might not be quite so clear to everyone else what cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or a person-centred approach, comprise, or how they might help you.

But if you take a bit of time to explore each counsellor’s profile, you will see they will list the kinds of issues and conditions they deal with. My suggestion would be to call or send them a short email setting out the challenge you are looking for help with. Ask if it is something they have experience in and if they believe they have the skills to support you.

An overview of various types of therapy

CBT was developed to deal with the here and now. It focuses on an individual’s thoughts, which can dictate feelings and subsequent actions. In brief, the theory is that if you can change someone’s thoughts, their feelings will become more positive and their actions easier.

The NHS offers online CBT courses that are short but can be very useful for some people. Recognising that it is your own thoughts that are sabotaging you can be very empowering, but it does not work for everyone.

For some people, past experiences have created certain patterns of thought, which their subconscious mind remembers, even if their conscious mind fails to do so. The subconscious attempts to protect us and may hold onto these thoughts, which is why exploring the past and understanding the impact it has had on you can be a vital part of therapy. This approach is called psychoanalysis or psychotherapy.

But for any therapist to understand a client’s issues, it is vital that they really listen deeply to what is being said without judgment and with a positive regard for the individual. This approach, which forms the basis of ‘person-centred’ therapy, also involves noticing a client’s body language and how they react emotionally to what is being said.

The integrated approach, meanwhile, takes all of these therapy types and uses whichever is appropriate to meet a client’s needs at the time. So an individual’s presenting issue will be explored in the context of the past and then the future in order to help them understand themselves and their choices more fully.

Clients often become stuck because they believe they have fewer choices available to them than is actually the case. But counselling can help them uncover more options by lifting the blocks created by set ways of thinking. It is often possible to discover a solution that was in fact always there but simply hidden away without them knowing.

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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.


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