What is counselling?

We all experience the ups and downs of life. Often, we are able to cope with the difficulties. But there are times when life events, expected or unexpected, can overwhelm us. We may end up feeling insecure, uncertain, and lacking in vitality. We may also begin to lose hope about the value of life itself. This is where counselling can really help. Counselling is an activity that involves the counsellor (or psychotherapist or counselling psychologist) helping a client to make sense of their problems, issues, worries and concerns. They do this in a safe and confidential setting. The counsellor will give space to the client to address their difficulties. They will also work at the client’s pace to facilitate insights into problems. They will  help the client to work towards constructive ways to address and resolve problems.

What are the benefits of counselling?

Counselling brings many benefits. For example, simply being allowed the opportunity to talk in a safe environment, without being judged. This can be healing and empowering in its own right. Other benefits include deeper or clearer insights into the nature of our difficulties. We may learn about the impact of our thoughts on how we feel and behave. This may help us work on alternative ways of thinking. The therapist will also make use of therapeutic tools and techniques so that the person can apply them in their own lives. So, at the very least, the person will have been allowed the space to offload about whatever is troubling them. Beyond that, counselling can transform a person’s life whereby they are able to make major changes, feel more empowered, and live a more meaningful life.

What are the different types of counselling?

There are many different approaches to counselling and therapy. One of the first approaches to emerge is psychodynamic counselling. This is based on the work of Sigmund Freud and developed further by later psychotherapists. This approach seeks to discover how our early life experiences may be contributing to our current difficulties, often without our awareness. Another popular approach is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which focuses on how our thoughts can influence how we feel and how we behave. A CBT therapist will work with a client to identify and replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviour with healthier and more helpful ones. Humanistic approaches to counselling emphasise the essential goodness of all people.  These approaches recognise the importance of a non-judgemental attitude when working with clients, alongside being able to empathise with the client and being genuine in the session. Other approaches include mindfulness-based therapy, transactional analysis, gestalt therapy, and transpersonal approaches. There are also approaches that work within particular religious domains. The important thing to bear in mind is that it is not so much that one approach is necessarily more effective or “better” than others.  Instead, according to many decades of research, what is recognised to be most important for a successful outcome from therapy is the quality of the working relationship between the client and therapist, as well as the client’s engagement with the therapy.

How do you find a counsellor and choose the right one?

Once you have made a decision that you would like to talk to a counsellor, finding the right therapist can be daunting. Some of the questions running through your mind might include: who is going to be right for me? Can I trust them? Will they be qualified? Will they be able to help me? How much will it cost? A good place to start your search is the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website (see here). They have a search facility right on the main page (pictured above).

The BACP is the largest counselling and psychotherapy organisation in Europe. All of the counsellors and psychotherapists registered with them will have undergone professional training. You can search for a therapist based on a particular issue that you are looking to address that the therapist will be trained in. You could also search for someone based on their post code, if you are thinking of having face to face sessions. The pandemic and lockdowns over the past 18 months or so have changed the way everyone works, including therapists. The vast majority of therapists will be able to provide online counselling, if you prefer. In which case, your post code will no longer be a barrier to seeking professional help.

Interested in learning more/training in counselling?

Learning about counselling and engaging in a focused way on one’s self-awareness and personal development can be extremely rewarding and life changing. We are fortunate in this day and age to have a wide range of opportunities to take part in training programmes. These courses vary in length and coverage, so you are bound to come across one that suits your particular needs and circumstances. Examples include the 10-week introduction to Counselling Skills course that runs at the University of Westminster (see here), which has British Psychological Society (BPS) approval as being suitable for continuing professional development (CPD). There are other courses that provide professional training of a longer duration and are accredited by various counselling, psychotherapy and psychology organisations, such as the BACP (see here), United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP, see here) and the British Psychological Society (BPS, see here).