It’s a wonderful thing to find something that helps us. It can change the way we view ourselves, our relationships, the world and life in general. However, what works for me might not work for you and that is why asking someone else to tell you what to do can be really unhelpful. Counselling is one of those things that can change your life. It can work on so many levels. It can help you to understand and accept yourself. It can help you to understand your relationships and why you might keep repeating some unhelpful behaviours. It might help you to improve relationships with your partner, your family, your friends and work colleagues. Or it might simply be the only place where you can really be you and work through all those things that you don’t want to tell anyone else about. How often do we have the experience of starting to tell a family member or friend something before they jump in with their own story, say something silencing like ‘tell me about it’ or simply not care enough to engage and listen?
I don’t know if you have noticed but counsellors talk about feelings a lot. I’m smiling as I write that because the stereotypical therapist is often portrayed in the media as someone touching their chin and asking their client ‘How did that make you feel?’ While I do try to avoid asking that myself, it does happen.
So why is it so important to understand our feelings? Well it might be useful to draw on why you might be considering counselling in the first place. You might find that you are thinking or saying things like ‘I feel lost’, or ‘I feel depressed’. It is your feelings which are being foregrounded here, not your thoughts. Alternatively, it may be that you have no idea what you are feeling and you might say things like ‘I’m bad at relationships’ or ‘My boss doesn’t understand me’. Counselling helps you to understand your feelings. It helps you to recognise the triggers to these feelings and helps you to process them. It helps you to understand how to cope when your feelings are stopping you from doing what you would like to do and to manage them.
If you need someone to help you with the way you are feeling, please get in touch. Feel well.
There is no right way ‘to do’ counselling which sounds unsatisfactory I know. It is really going to depend so much on the relationship which develops between you and your Counsellor. It is also going to depend on the model of therapy your Counsellor draws on. For more on this please read my blog post different approaches to psychological therapy.
Isn’t it funny how we can go through life being told what to do by other people. Parents, teachers, bosses, partners and even people who claim to be our friends. At some point most of us decide that we can make our own decisions and stop deferring to others. We learn to say what we need. We stop believing that other people have all the answers. We start to believe in ourselves and realise that even if we get it wrong we can learn from the experience and repair damage if necessary.
Unfortunately not everyone reaches this stage and I often work with clients who have no belief or confidence in themselves. It becomes obvious when they realise that counselling is not about being told what to do and that even though I’m a Counsellor I am not going to make their decisions for them. I love the phrase ‘why don’t you work on your own story.’ It says so much about opportunities, potential, choices and responsibility. It is not about trying to control others or about trying to live your life through others or blaming others. It’s about realising that it’s up to you.
Mind you saying ‘why don’t you work on your own story’ is really assuming that you are able to. That you have an awareness that other people may be pulling the strings in your life. I don’t want to diminish the fact that many people have few choices. Poverty is one of the biggest causes of mental health problems. You may feel oppressed and stuck in a job you hate. You may feel trapped in a bad relationship. You may feel you have to do what your family tells you otherwise you will be rejected. I can’t change any of these things. I can’t change society for you. I can’t make life fairer for you. I can work on my story though and do my bit and maybe that means working with you. Helping you to find a way to cope with the things you cannot change while working on the things you can change.
So you picked up the phone and made the appointment to have some counselling. You have taken the first steps to making some changes in your life. And now you’re sitting in front of the Counsellor and you are wondering what to say.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe not. Some clients are quickly comfortable in counselling and know exactly how they want to use the time and what they want to get out of it. That’s great.
Others, however, are unsure about how counselling might work and wonder how the person sitting opposite them is going to be able to help. I remember feeling like this and I didn’t like it one bit. I felt uncomfortable and exposed and wanted to run for it as far away as possible. Some clients ask me if how they ‘are’ in counselling is normal. That assumes there is a ‘normal’. It’s really hard to write about what to say in counselling because that assumes there is a right answer. And the truth is there isn’t. Your counselling experience is going to depend on you. If you are someone who finds it hard to trust others then it may take some time before you trust your Counsellor. You might even test your Counsellor by telling them some things to see if they are shocked, before moving on to talking about the things that are buried away. The things that keep hurting you.
Based on my experiences (in both chairs) I would say that if you don’t know what to say then tell your Counsellor. Ask for help. That’s why you’re there. If it’s not forthcoming then maybe you’re sitting in front of the wrong person.
Do you find yourself stuck in your life and not know how to find a way forward? Does it seem like your relationships go wrong….and they always do? Do you keep ruminating over things that happened to you in the past and keep going over and over details? Do you wish that your life was different but feel that whatever you try makes no difference?
We all have times when we feel that life is hard and that we have messed up. You might find it hard to understand why you keep making the same mistakes over and over again. You might beat yourself up for getting something wrong and find it really hard to say sorry. You might make assumptions about other people and think that they have got life figured out. That can make you feel more miserable. Like you’re alone. You might isolate yourself from others. Or you might adopt some coping strategies to comfort yourself. Like eating too much. Or drinking too much. Or taking drugs.
Sometimes the reason people find it hard to cope or enjoy life is that the past is being played out in the present. Counselling can help you to understand whether this is happening. Some people don’t want to trawl through their past and this is understandable. It can be painful. However, recognising how the past is still ‘alive’ can help you to make some changes in your life. Better choices leading to a more fulfilled life.