Reaching out is hard. When we are not feeling our best, perhaps feeling wounded by relationships or stressed and overwhelmed by life, the tendency is to defend ourselves. We shut down and draw inward. Chances are if you are reading this, you may be having trouble talking to the people nearest to you or perhaps you feel you are talking a lot but nothing is getting any better.
Some people find it helpful to recognise that they do fall into a certain category of struggle. You may be ok with being identified as someone who is depressed, anxious or grieving for example. You may even have had a diagnosis and some medication before. Others might be new to exploring their mental health or just not happy to be ‘labelled’. That’s fine, I think it can be enough to recognise that you are just not feeling ok and that this has gone on for too long.
I look at it like this (stick with me here…..). Perhaps you have overindulged in rich food or had a bit too much alcohol? Maybe you are smoking or using recreational drugs and perhaps not exercising either? These habits are somewhat normalised in society, aren’t they? We all know that these things are not good for us but you wouldn’t describe yourself as medically ill would you? But after a big weekend, you are probably not feeling physically great either.
Ok. So in the same way, the pressures of life can shift our mental state from ok to not ok. It’s not a mental illness per se, we are just not 100% fit and healthy mentally. Does that make sense? Sadly the concept of being mentally unwell can still carry stigma in our society which is a shame. It is all too easy for ordinary people to slip from being ok to not ok.
If you are considering Counselling (also known as Psychotherapy), let me fill you in on what a Counsellor is, how to choose a good one and what Counselling might be like.
You need to be well informed before you chose a Counsellor because in the UK it is not a regulated profession. This means you can legally call yourself a Counsellor with minimal training. Happily, the profession has its own voluntary governing body in the BACP which stands for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: https://www.bacp.co.uk/. They ensure that Counsellors registered with them have a minimum standard of training. In my case, this was a master’s degree in Psychology (https://www.uel.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/msc-psychology) followed by a master’s level post-graduate diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy (https://www.uel.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/pgdip-counselling-and-psychotherapy) from the University of East London. The BACP also requires at least 100 hours of client Counselling experience under strict supervision before you can qualify.
My training also included a thorough understanding of the BACP’s ethical framework which talks about conduct and things like confidentiality and storing data. For the duration of my career, I am expected to attend regular supervision with a specially trained supervisor. They are there to make sure I am doing ok and more importantly, that I am conducting my therapy effectively and in keeping with the BACP ethical guidelines.
An Integrative Counsellor in particular (that’s me!), has studied a variety of theories and practices for helping people. You have probably heard of some of them: CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), Mindfulness, Person-Centered, Psychodynamic and Solution Focused for example. Check out the BACP for more information about different styles of Counselling: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/types-of-therapy/.
How to choose a Counsellor
Look at the Counsellor biographies on the BACP website. You might be drawn to a kind face or a serious one. Read what they are saying – do you think they might understand you? Get in contact and see how that contact feels. Are they friendly yet professional? Are they responsive and can they offer the appointment times that suit you?
After you have considered all this, just reach out and book an appointment. What have you got to lose? If toward the end of the session you feel that this is not the Counsellor for you, simply thank them, say you will think it over and leave. Trust me, we are all thick-skinned enough to realise that occasionally Counsellor and Client just don’t click. You may need to try a couple of therapists before you find one that suits you.
Put simply, you need to like your Counsellor. You may feel a bit self-conscious initially but you should feel safe and comfortable talking to them and leave feeling that they have understood you.
What is Counselling?
Generally, a Counselling session will be fifty minutes. This allows for people to come and go discreetly and to allow the Counsellor to make their notes which remind them of what you talked about that day. These notes are usually brief and anonymised in some way. If electronic, the device should be password protected. Like all professionals, we are governed by the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR (https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/) so your secrets are safe with us!
You can talk about anything you want in a Counselling session and what you talk about is strictly confidential. There are only a few rules about this and they are easily summed up: confidentiality will only be broken if it seems you will hurt yourself or someone else. Even so, your Counsellor is likely to bring this up for discussion with you before taking any action. The only other time your Counsellor might discuss you is during their professional supervision. However, the supervisor they speak to is bound by the same duty of confidentiality so will never discuss you with anyone else.
After introductions and the above information is given, you can simply start to explain why you are there. What is going on for you that is troubling? It might be helpful to think about your relationships and behaviour, how you are feeling and thinking and maybe even to discuss your upbringing. I think it worth saying that although understanding how childhood impacts on adulthood can be useful, it is not compulsory for good therapy. We will talk about what you want to talk about. Your Counsellor should listen carefully to you but also interact with you. You should feel you are being heard, understood and maybe even gently challenged. Feel free to ask questions about Counselling and tell your Counsellor what you expect to get out of your sessions.
What Counselling is not
It is equally important is to understand what Counselling does not involve. We are not going to tell you what to do. Our role is to understand what you are going through and to help you tap into your own solutions. This may include education about how the brain works when we are struggling emotionally or teaching you practices that can help you cope better with problem emotions. Sometimes just having a neutral sounding board works wonders. I like to offer a variety of tools that my clients can use to help them feel better. I will also provide a comfortable, non-judgemental environment where people can tell me things that sometimes they have never told another person. This alone can bring huge relief and allow for healing and moving forward.
Difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy
There is none, the terms are interchangeable. Remember I said that Counsellors are not regulated? This means we can call ourselves whatever we choose (within reason!). Some professional titles are protected however by the Health and Care Professions Council (https://www.bacp.co.uk/). We cannot call ourselves Psychologists for example.
How much does Counselling cost?
Counselling is an investment in your health. Of course, I would say this but that doesn’t make it any less true. After all, you wouldn’t refuse a GP appointment if you were unwell. Counselling is available for free on the NHS but you do not get to choose who you see and your therapy is likely to be time-limited. You may also be able to access low cost or free Counselling through your workplace or a charity. The charity Mind can offer good information: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-therapy-and-counselling/how-to-find-a-therapist/#.XcKlRuieS70
I believe you should be mindful of any ongoing financial costs in your life. So naturally some people worry about how long they will need to see a Counsellor to achieve results. Let me reassure you. Really good work can be done in as few as 6 sessions. Similarly, some people feel they have a lot to explore and so are happy to attend for a longer duration. It is up to you. Do let your Counsellor know if you are worried about your budget so together you can make a focused plan for what you would like to achieve. I would always advise that you attend weekly or fortnightly. Longer gaps seem to result in going over old ground and difficulties moving forward through the Counselling process.
I hope this information was useful for you. Perhaps you can let me know on Twitter: https://twitter.com/psychphysio Please visit my website too: http://www.bgcounsellingandpsychotherapy.com which is undergoing an upgrade. I hope you will pop in now and again to see what I am up to. Thank you for reading this far! Bernie.