It was brought to my attention recently that, whilst counselling and therapy has gained a lot of ground over the past few years, many of us still recognise the taboo around mental health and really have no idea what therapy involves, or whether we would benefit from it. I want to change that.

What is counselling?

Counselling is the term given to a type of talking therapy. It involves weekly sessions (normally) of around 45-60mins where you sit and discuss with your counsellor whatever you came to discuss. Sometimes this can be in the form of what has happened in the last week and other times you will look at specific events in your past. It’s rare these days to find the Freudian therapist’s ‘couch’ and you’ll most probably be sat in a chair!

Are there different types?

Yes – therapy and counselling are often used interchangeably, as I’m doing, but there are a few differences. Counselling is traditionally a more passive approach to therapy, whereas ‘therapy’ or ‘psychotherapy’ can be more directive or challenging. CBT (used a lot in the UK National Health Service) would be an example of therapy. The type of counselling you may get from your pastor or religious leader might be more like traditional counselling (listening and empathising).

The reason we often use both terms is because in the UK ‘counsellor’ is the more normal name, even though many counsellors are training in psychotherapy as well as traditional counselling, for example, my diploma was in Integrative Psychotherapeutic Counselling!

There are a number of different theoretical approaches to counselling or therapy as well. You can find out more about them here.

Will I have to talk about my feelings?

Technically, no. No therapist will force you to talk about anything you don’t want to, but it’s unlikely therapy will work if you don’t want to talk about how things affect you. Counselling works on the premise that we create and learn certain perceptions or ways of looking at the world, based on our experiences and pre-conceived ideas. That’s why some of the world’s poorest people are the happiest, even though if we were in their shoes we’d probably be very miserable. Counselling works by uncovering, through the process of talking and feedback from the counsellor, what your underlying beliefs and feelings are, so you can choose whether or not to shift your thinking to something that might serve you better.

Even if you’re not a big talker, don’t worry about this too much if you choose to begin counselling. It’s a counsellor’s job to make you feel safe and comfortable, so even people who never talked about their feelings before often find themselves talking quite easily after a few weeks of sessions.

Why can’t I just talk to my friends or family? Does talking about things even really help?

You can, but it rarely has the same effect. Think about it, as supportive as family and friends might be, you’re bound to censor yourself on some level when you talk to them. They might have had a bad day and you don’t want to worry them, or you know their opinion about something so you downplay it so they don’t get aggravated, or you don’t want them to worry about you. I get a lot of clients coming to me because they don’t want to be ‘that friend’ who’s always talking about how unhappy or angry they are.

Being with a counsellor means you don’t have to feel guilty talking about yourself the whole time – that’s the point! You’ve also got someone completely neutral and objective, who doesn’t have any preconceptions about you, your situation, or anyone else you might talk about. It’s really freeing to be able to talk to an objective party and just allow different perspectives (your own, not the counsellor’s) to filter in and help you see the ‘bigger picture’.

Do I need counselling?

Most people could benefit from counselling, but if you’re generally happy with life, you’re probably alright without it. If however, you find yourself angry, sad, or feeling guilty, or any other negative feeling, and it stops you from enjoying your life the way you want, then you could really benefit from counselling.

Have a look for people with whom you feel you resonate, ensure they’re a member of a professional body with a code of ethics and complaints procedure, and give them a call or drop them an email. Most counsellors offer a free consultation to see if you’re a good fit before you make any commitments.

Feel like you might like to work with me? Let’s say hello and see if we make a good fit!