People have all kinds of expectations about what counselling will be like. This is sometimes because they’ve had good or bad experiences of counselling in the past. It’s unfortunate that there are bad counsellors out there because often people will give up on counselling after a bad experience. In some ways, who can blame them? However, very often the people I work with have never experienced any kind of counselling before and have no idea what to expect. Quite a disconcerting experience! If you’re considering counselling, hopefully the information I provide here will help you make your decision and give you a sense of how it actually works.
People who have not experienced counselling before often imagine that it’s a bit like going to visit a doctor. Once they’ve explained what their symptoms are the counsellor will prescribe a treatment that will stop the symptoms so they can carry on as normal. Other people come to counselling because they’re sick of carrying on as normal. They’ve become unhappy and want to make changes in their life so they can be happy again. On some level they may also believe the counsellor will do something to them that will make everything drop into place so this can happen, perhaps a bit like completing a Rubik’s Cube.
When something important clicks into place in counselling and we experience an “Aha!” moment it can feel a bit like a Rubik’s Cube but generally speaking, working through life’s struggles and crises is not a straightforward, logical process, although it’s really not surprising that people often have these ideas about counselling. Ours is a culture which likes to put people on pedestals. We derive a great deal of security from knowing there are lots of experts out there worrying about important things so we don’t have to. To a very significant degree we are taught from a early age to relinquish our power to these expert authorities and in so doing we are invited to abdicate our responsibility for ourselves to those who we perceive to be more knowledgeable and powerful than us.
Of course, counsellors are experts because we have lots of special training and experience helping people with their problems. However, the human mind is very mysterious and complicated – much more complicated than the rest of the human body, as well as nuclear reactors, rocket ships, global economics and pretty much anything else you can think of. The only person who can ever really know your mind is you, so my ability to help you know your mind is very much based on how much of your mind you’re able to share with me. And why would you share your innermost thoughts and feelings with someone you don’t know, even if they are a counsellor? It can take a while to build up a level of trust so it feels safe enough to do this.
Of course often people come to counselling because they quite simply don’t know their own mind. They know something’s wrong – perhaps they’re in conflict with themselves or others – but they don’t know what’s at the root of the problem and they certainly don’t have the tools to figure it out on their own. Thankfully counsellors do have the tools to help their clients to get to know their own minds and figure out what their deeper feelings are, feelings which are invariably at the root of these problems and conflicts. As a result of getting in touch with these deeper feelings, the counselling process helps them to radically redefine their relationship with themselves and others so they can begin to solve their problems and heal their conflicts. But it’s a two way street. It’s hard work for both me and my clients and it’s really important that both of us put an equal amount of effort and energy into the process.
A life is not a problem to be fixed or a task to be completed, like a Rubik’s Cube. Life is a puzzle we will never complete, a process which will continue to shift, change and unfold in unexpected and often paradoxical ways until the day we die. Counselling provides a space in which we can pause, rest, reflect, nurture ourselves, grow wiser, gather courage, take small steps and sometimes make great leaps and ultimately change our relationship with this wonderful, profoundly challenging and mysterious puzzle for the benefit of ourselves, our loved ones and the entire human race.
If this all sounds a bit full on then you’re experiencing a very normal reaction! If, despite the realisation that it can be really hard work (as well as fun, exciting, empowering and often life changing), you’re still up for giving it a go then you’re taking your first massive step towards taking responsibility for your own journey of healing and growth. This is an absolutely essential part of the process. Well done!