Counselling Therapy Made Simple: A step by step guide
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Are you asking yourself if counselling therapy is for you? Here’s a complete guide covering everything you want to know about counselling and attending therapy.
When is counselling therapy required?
It may surprise you to know that counselling therapy is not appropriate for everyone. If you are being abused, for example, counselling should not be used to help you cope with the abuse you receive, it can however be helpful once you are safe from imminent harm. In such circumstances, practical support assisting your safety would be paramount. This is one of the reasons why I offer a free consultation, so we can discuss what has prompted you to make the courageous decision to attend counselling therapy. By having a phone consultation, we can get a sense of each other, work out what it is you are hoping to achieve from therapy, and if we are a good fit. I don't believe it should cost you to gauge a sense of your therapist. If you were investing in a gadget for example, if like me, I imagine you would shop around, exploring whether it is worth paying for extras, warranty or guarantees, performance, reviews etc. You may even go into store to look them over. Why should investing in therapy be any different?
Many people believe you need to be struggling with life to access counselling therapy. Consequently, lots of people often end up suffering in silence. They may be overwhelmed with sadness or depression, perhaps feeling stuck in a rut leading a life they don't want, putting on a brave face to those closest to them and toughing it out, anxious that they may get found out, and reminding themselves to keep positive – whatever the emotional cost. They wait until their distress becomes unbearable before seeking help with a qualified counselling therapist. If that sounds like you, counselling can help you. Finding yourself a counsellor that you feel connected with, can support you in surviving such feelings of distress, and can help bring you some new insights and inner peace.
Counselling therapy is a great way to look after yourself, even when you feel like life's going well. You don't have to be breaking under life's pressures to benefit from counselling therapy. Increasing your self-awareness can bring you clarity in your life as well as improving your relationship with others – whether that be personally with friends and family, or at work.
You may have friends and family around you, but sometimes they may feel too close to talk to – they may even be causing the problem! How many times have you tried to speak with those close to you, only to hear:
"yes, that happened to me, let me tell you all about it…"
"that's terrible, don't tell me any more, it's too upsetting."
"Really? I can't believe they'd do something like that."
"You just need to think positively, it's not that bad."
"What did you do to deserve that?"
"Oh you surprise me, I'd never put up with that!"
"Come on, don't be down. You've got lots to be grateful for…"
"That was a while ago now, isn't it time you moved on?"
I'm sure you could add a few examples of your own too. As you can see, it's not always helpful to talk to a friend or those that you know.
Where does counselling take place?
Traditionally, counselling therapy sessions would take place face to face, usually sat with your therapist in an office or clinic. Telephone counselling arrived later, helping therapy to become more accessible. With advancing technology over recent years, the way therapy is delivered has expanded. Therapy can now be offered remotely via text messaging, email, and web-based video calls, as well as outdoor walk and talk therapy. Counselling sessions can now be accessed 24/7. You may prefer telephone therapy as you feel uncomfortable being visible? Perhaps web-based sessions are more suitable for you if you live in a remote area or are housebound? You may prefer the outdoors and to walk while you talk?
At the start of lock-down of the Covid-19 pandemic, I like many therapists moved their work online. Since restrictions have loosened, the number of therapists now returning to face to face practice is increasing. This is not viable for everyone though and I encourage you to consider your own health needs when deciding.
The good news is that you really can choose whichever method suits you best, and a time that is most convenient for you.
Which therapeutic approach is best for me?
How many phrases do you hear for talking therapies? Counselling, therapy, psychotherapy, integrative therapy, psychodynamic therapy, emotional freedom therapy, humanistic therapy, person-centred therapy…and then there are the acronyms: EMDR, CBT, SFBT, TA…How do you know which type of therapy is best for you when there are so many to choose from? It's confusing right?! Increasingly though, research shows that the relationship you have with your counselling therapist is the biggest predictor of 'successful' therapy so it's crucial to choose a counsellor that feels like a good fit. See what resonates with you.
Often the terms, 'counselling' and 'psychotherapy' are used interchangeably, usually to differentiate between short term or long-term therapy. Here in the UK, at present, there are no regulations in place to protect the use of these titles. Technically, anyone can call themselves a counsellor. There also seems to be some bias to suggest that psychotherapy is perhaps superior to counselling, and consequently it may offer the therapist more status. My degree qualification states 'counselling' so that's what I go with, AND I offer both short and long-term therapy.
Whilst I'm on the topic of qualifications, you may have also noticed some places offer low-cost counselling courses…these alone do not qualify individuals to safely offer therapy to others. Not all training is equal. That doesn't mean that someone with a diploma is less effective than someone with a Ph.D., but I invite you to at the least, do a quick Google search to check if their course was experiential and not just distance learning. Also, please please please, check your therapist's credentials – are they qualified as advertised? Are they insured? Are they registered with a membership body? If your counsellor is not adequately trained, nor attending regular supervision, the risk of harm or malpractice is inevitably greater. Any therapist worth seeing should be happy to provide this information to you and show you their certifications. Please don't be afraid to ask. With the right therapist, counselling can be the most precious gift you can offer yourself.
What is counselling therapy?
Counselling is usually planned, regular sessions for around an hour, which is agreed at the start between you and your counsellor. Counsellors work with individuals, couples, families, and groups.
Counselling can help you with the emotions and events you find challenging, this could include difficulties with relationships or other upsetting or traumatic experiences. Counselling therapy involves talking about what's on your mind, how this leaves you feeling, and how you react.
This is so you can develop a better understanding of both yourself and others.
This process can help you find your own solutions. You may choose to make some changes in your life or explore different ways of coping with whatever's causing you problems or difficulties, such as grief, loss, depression, or anxiety. Some people come to counselling looking for answers, others come looking for peace, while others want to be their best version they can be.
Despite the myth that having counselling is a weakness, sharing things about yourself with a stranger that you try to keep hidden from others is a brave thing to do. Let's face it, if it was so easy, we would all do it! It is common to be curious as to whether counselling therapy will help you, maybe you're worried it will make you feel even worse? Sometimes when we access our emotions more fully, we can be deeply impacted, as well as liberated, by these new experiences available to us.
It may not always feel easy talking to someone all about you for around an hour every week. It's different from any usual relationship as the hour is all about you – ALL about you. Consequently, you will know very little about your therapist. It's supposed to be like that, despite this sometimes feeling odd. Yet, how amazing is it that you are heard and seen in this way? How often does this happen in the real world? Having this unique type of relationship, where the time is focused purely on you and your world, can often be an extremely powerful experience for many of us.
Counselling is about you having a personal therapist to journey alongside you, understanding your world as you see it, what holds you back, and help you find ways to be more in tune with what you need.
It is expected during counselling therapy that you will build a trustworthy relationship with your counselling therapist. Counselling offers you a space to feel safe in, you will be treated with care and respect. Your therapist will do their utmost to understand your experiences and what has informed your views, you won't be judged.
At the start, we will discuss how we will work together and agree on how best to do so. This is known as our therapy agreement or the contract. It contains our mutually agreed decisions, and includes things such as the length of sessions, or what we would do in the event of unexpectedly meeting outside of session, for example. This part of the process is important as it sets out what we can expect from each other. This helps prevent any unwelcome surprises in creating a safe and solid foundation to build a trusting therapeutic relationship. If you have had therapy before, sharing what was/was not useful can be helpful too.
Once our working agreement is established, this is where we both step into the unknown. I don't know where you will take us on your journey. You do not have to talk about anything you're not ready to or discuss anything you don't want to. I am guided by you. Counselling can help you wherever you are at in life. I have experience of counselling children from 4 years, up to adults age 80+.
Is counselling confidential?
You don't have to worry about your friends/boss/family/GP finding out, the sessions are private and confidential so your counsellor would usually only share your information with your prior permission. Sometimes, there may be specific circumstances where this may not always be possible. This is usually discussed at the very beginning so you are fully aware of the limits of confidentiality.
What do people talk about during counselling therapy sessions? Where to start.
Have you ever wondered what people talk about in a therapy session for a whole hour each week? Well, it depends. Sometimes people decide before their therapy session what they would like to discuss with their counsellor, and they may well feel a sense of urgency about it. This could include past or present life events, or general discussions about how your feeling. It could involve relationships, childhood, or situations you find difficult.
At other times, if there's nothing pressing, you may not know what you would like to talk about. This can sometimes be anxiety-provoking and you may be tempted to put pressure on yourself to come up with something – anything! "I don't know what to talk about", is a perfectly acceptable place to start. We can work this out together. I also have resources available which you may – or may not, wish to explore and some potentially helpful exercises, should they be relevant for you.
Some people are at a cross-road in their life and maybe feeling confused, others perhaps feel out of sorts and can't quite put their finger on what is wrong in their life, another may be struggling with a relationship breakdown or could be feeling overwhelmed with grief. This is very individual and varies from person to person, which is why my work is guided and informed by you.
Can counselling help me or can counselling make you feel worse?
On occasions, you may leave a session feeling relieved or energised, particularly if you have experienced a 'light bulb' moment. They feel amazing! In counselling therapy, an intense and intimate space is often created, with the work feeling deep and meaningful. It can also be fun and even humorous. Yes, you read right, you may even laugh!
There may be other times after session when you leave feeling drained, frustrated, or upset. Therapy sessions can at times feel mentally exhausting. At times like these, you may be wondering whether counselling makes you feel worse. This can be quite common when we are accessing big emotions that have been hidden away. It may be tempting to want to stop therapy, to try and avoid feeling like this but expressing these feelings are part of the work. Equally, the worse you feel, is not necessarily a reflection of how much progress you are making. It can be helpful to discuss this with your counselling therapist, so they are better able to support you.
The work is not limited to the time you spend in session, much can happen in between too. Together we can explore practical tools you may find helpful to support you in between sessions, such as using a journal for example. This can also provide topics for discussion in session. Therapy is not always an easy process, but you don't have to do it alone. I will offer you my skills and knowledge to support you in making the changes you want in your life, and help you change the way you feel.
Will counselling give me the answers I need?
Counsellors don't generally give advice; however, we can explore and clarify what options are available to you. When I have information that could be of use to you, I will offer to share this with you. There is no obligation to accept, it will merely be a suggestion. It will be your choice to accept or decline. I trust that you know what will be of help to you at that moment. It is not for me to tell you what to do, you are the expert on your life.
Counselling helps you unpick the defence mechanisms you have built up over time to protect yourself, often to the extent that they feel as though they are you. As you work through what is bothering you, new insights will be gained. This may well inform any answers you are seeking however not necessarily the ones you may first have wished for.
Does counselling work?
Speaking from personal experience, definitely yes! If you are prepared to do the work.
Imagine you sign up with a personal trainer at your local gym. You pay your money and have all the equipment at hand. Your personal trainer works exclusively with you for an hour each week, sharing their skills and knowledge to help you develop and achieve your goals…
If you just turn up for the PT session and only ever use the sauna, then you won't get the changes you desire.
Counselling therapy is a bit like going to the gym. The work can be tough at times. You won't always feel like going but you know that if you want the results, you need to stick at it and keep going. At first, when you look in the mirror, you will still look the same despite your efforts. With time, you can do more, you feel more confident and carry yourself differently. Those around you start to notice. You begin to notice.
I'm ready, are you? Contact me to book a call.
firstname.lastname@example.org / Kay Bingham 07908874708
Timothy L Brock