Does Counselling work?

In my first session with clients a question that comes up is: will this work for me? This probably comes from a completely understandable anxiety to get the right help and not waste time or money. The answer, however, is not a simple one, because it depends…

It depends if the person is ‘in the right place’ for counselling and, of course, if the Counsellor is any good. This answer can sound pretty unhelpful, but in reality it’s true; and at the same time my client’s have spoken of burdens being lifted and massive personal changes taking place. Personally I know it works if people are in the right place, and I know it worked for me.

I also know it to be true that if I can:

  • develop a relationship with my client so they feel able to share all those thoughts and feelings they ‘shouldn’t‘ have, and
  • share with them that I understand what it might be like to feel that way and be alongside them when times are really overwhelming and painful

then something sort of magical happens…

  • clients feel a massive relief that they are not ‘crazy’ or ‘bad’ but completely understandable.
  • The feelings they were trying to hide from are now being acknowledged, and this then allows something to shift**.
  • Once this new feeling is brought out into the open they can see it truly for the first time and can begin to accept and understand it. Like everything in life, if you keep pushing something it will push back, but now because we are no longer fighting against it, it can morph and change, and stop overwhelming us.

This change and acceptance is difficult and can be painful, and it is the only way I have ever experienced how to change things for good.

There is scientific evidence about how effective counselling can be, but as always this is about people in general, not you, not the client sat in front of me. So yes, it is a risk, and with the right Counsellor, at the right time, perhaps one of the best risk you’ll ever take.

*  I use the word acceptance, but I don’t mean it in an airy fairy way, it could be accepting the anger or rage which is beneath the surface or a deep sadness which follows you around.

** This is also called the paradox of change


That damn word ‘should’ litters our thoughts, at least it does mine, and often my clients too. If pressed I guess I could say, on the positive side, it’s the word that has kept us safe and able to socialise with others in our society. It’s the word that is left over from being taught right from wrong.

Problem is this right from wrong goes from useful not breaking the law sort of ‘shoulds’ (although I guess some of those are debatable); to how we should live our lives, what we should want, how much money we should earn, what we should like. These ‘shoulds’ are passed down through parents, friends, society and can move us away from our real passions, desires and even the ‘silly’ things we get pleasure from.

Counselling can often get beneath these ‘conditions of worth‘. But what has struck me recently is how the should gets into absolutely everything…..

I like to create pieces of art/music, actually that’s not entirely true, I like to start something. I like to think up an idea and begin to play it. What I don’t particularly like is finishing it off, because by the time I am half way through a piece… I’m dreaming about the next one (or several). This is probably something which affects most creative people, as a very developed right side of the brain is future focused and is the area known to be most creative. Imagination is almost the opposite of living in the here and now.

But there of course is a ‘should’ about productivity, and in order to be valued in any way as an artist I need to produce something other people can experience. I do understand this, and it’s got a bit mixed up. For fun I like to create and think and I’ve popped a ‘should’ (hidden as a need) in there, that I need to finish in order to be acknowledged. I am free to start things and not finish them if that’s what I want. So that’s what I’ve done. And as a testament to the ‘paradox of change’ I have now finished off something which I feel proud of….

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change – Carl Rogers

So what am I saying in all this? Simply this, give yourself a break, do something you like until the point you don’t like it, don’t question it, let it happen, do it for fun, acknowledge that this is simply you enjoying your self in a creative way and not pandering to the needs of society. Focus on what you have created and enjoy it, trust yourself and maybe something will happen you never thought possible.

The petulant side of living in the moment

Leisure time can be stressful, for me at least, simply because it’s not meant to be: I’ll have some glorious spare time on my hands and recently I’ve not quite known what to do.

I’ll look inside myself and feel what my true desire is: “Excellent”, I think “what I most want right now is be near trees and water”; so off I’ll head on a walk somewhere. Problem is, five minutes into my walk I’ll feel a teeny tiny amount of anxiety (a sure sign that all is not 100% well), you see now what I most want to do is to write, or be in a coffee shop, or have a nap. Whatever I have embarked on doesn’t match what my shifting, sliding self wants, and I’m finding it problematic.

During my training to be a counsellor I really learned to hone into this part of myself and trust it, but to be honest this central part of my being is a bit scatty. On the whole it serves me well to be able to encounter a myriad of dichotomous feelings, but it’s not very relaxing to respond to this petulant self, and as I say a bit bloody stressful.

So how do I keep listening to myself and find a way to relax a bit? Well, I guess, it’s a bit like any decision in life. There’s never an absolutely perfect decision, it’s not so simple as right and a wrong.

Oliver Burkeman in a recent article wrote about a research paper, Decision Quicksand. It states that we confuse the complexity of a problem with the importance of it in our lives. My inner world is complex, deep and unrestricted by practicality; and let’s face it, whether to have a nap or go for a stroll is very trivial. So it’s simple isn’t it? I just choose to carry on walking and accept that where I’m heading won’t be the perfect way to spend my time; but maybe if I can accept this then magically my leisure time will suddenly become, low and behold, really quite relaxing.