What can I expect from counselling?

If you haven’t had counselling before you are going to want to know what you will get in return for your investment. Ultimately, are you going to get better and is it going to be worth it the cost.

Starting at the most basic level, what you will get is an empathetic ear. Someone who will listen to you attentively and without judgement, respecting you as an individual. This, in itself, can be profoundly therapeutic. Many people have never been listened to in this way.

In social conversation the person you are talking to may not really be listening. They are likely to be thinking about what they are going to say, eager to jump in with their own opinion or advice on what you should do. Whilst this has its place, and is important, it is very different from talking to a trained counsellor who will be focusing intently on what you saying. They will allow you to say what you want, without interruption. In a counselling session you will do most of the talking. The counsellor will offer the occasional prompt or comment to encourage you to elaborate your own thoughts.

Confidentially is another key aspect of counselling. You can talk to your counsellor in the safe knowledge that it will not get back to your friends, family, colleagues or anyone else in your life. This means that you can share thoughts and feelings that may have remained unspoken for years. Maybe you have been to ashamed or afraid to talk about something for years that has made you anxious and fearful throughout your life. Saying such things out loud to an understanding counsellor can bring immense relief. It allows you to work through those thoughts and feelings to a point where they become manageable and don’t bring up the same level of emotion.

The two factors above are healing in their own right. You can expect a reduction in anxiety or unwanted negative feelings, improvement in depression and an increased ability to deal with life’s challenges. However for many people a deeper level of understanding provides a greater level of improvement.

Psychodynamic counsellors understand that the way you function in your current life was programmed in your early years of life. This includes beliefs and attitudes, sense of identity, patterns of relationships, emotional reactions to situations, etc. Realising what these inner programmes are, and how they arose, can lead to a deeper level of healing. You can, therefore, expect from a psychodynamic counsellor exploration of childhood events and some linking of these to current patterns in life. This understanding, and sometimes a replaying of them in the counselling room, can allow you to change these patterns and take more control of your life rather than being governed by the past.

Some modes of counselling, such as CBT, are focused on alleviating a single issue and occur over a period of a few weeks. Psychodynamic counselling works over the longer term and looks at the whole person, recognising that the personality is very complex and the different parts, including memories, are interlinked. Improvement is generally gradual, with occasionally breakthroughs that can make a more significant step change.

Finally, what you get out of counselling is largely down to what you are prepared to put into it. The counsellor does not have a magic pill that will heal you immediately. What the counsellor will bring is experience and understanding of how the mind works, facilitating you to an understanding of yourself and hence some relief from whatever is concerning you.