For some people, talking to a counsellor about their thoughts and feelings is the equivalent of going to the GP to talk about their aches and pains. Others would only think about going to see a counsellor if they found themselves facing an emotional crisis and really had no other options left to try. Sadly, there are still a large number of people who would rather continue to battle on their own and not seek professional support as they see going to a counsellor as a sign of failure and weakness. Alternatively, they may have been put off by all the extreme stereotypes represented on the TV; particularly if they have watched Ricky Gervais' 'After Life'...he's enough to stop you ever stepping foot in a therapy room again!
I wanted to write this post to help illustrate what counselling really is and the different ways in which it can help you to better manage your life...it's not all about crisis management or helping people who have experienced significant trauma or loss. Counselling can also offer support with the day to day challenges of life by providing:
1. An opportunity to 'brain dump' on somebody else - how many times do you stop yourself sharing how you are feeling or what you are thinking with a friend or relative because you don't want to 'burden' them or take up their time? Counselling is an opportunity to hand over difficult emotions, feeling and thoughts to someone who will listen without judgement, not tell you 'what they would do' or 'what you should do' but to help you make sense of their meaning. It's the equivalent of having a walking, talking journal or diary!
2. A safe place where you can retreat from the stress and anxiety of everyday life. A space that belongs to just you for 50 minutes of your week...no demanding children, parents, teachers or work colleagues. A place where you can remove your 'mask' and truly be you, without the fear of being rejected or criticised.
3. An opportunity to improve your relationships - when relationships feel like they have stopped working, it's often to do with a breakdown in communication. Sitting with a counsellor and talking about your close relationships can help you to explore the language that is used and whether your needs are still being met. It's also an opportunity to explore the ways in which you communicate with different people in your life and to identify any repeating patterns of negative and destructive behaviour.
4. A chance to understand and challenge that negative internal voice - do you have a negative voice in your head that tells you off when you've messed up or done something wrong and prevents you from trying new things in case you make a fool of yourself? Counselling can provide you with the tools to fight back against that voice by understanding where that voice came from and how it feeds into the subsequent beliefs that you have formed about yourself. Understanding is a vital ingredient for change
5. An opportunity to take back control of unwanted and unhealthy behaviours - counselling can help you to address some of the behaviours in your life that you want to feel more in control of. Perhaps you want to be able to cut down on your drinking or stop altogether. You might want to find an alternative to reaching for the biscuit tin every time you feel sad or maybe you want to reduce the amount of sugar you eat but are struggling to do so. Are you a compulsive shopper? All of these behaviours take place because they result in some degree of self-soothing and emotional nourishment when faced with difficult and painful emotions. Counselling provides you with an opportunity to explore what needs these behaviours meet and how to break away from them.
6. A place to learn better emotional regulation and improve physical and mental wellbeing - stress and anxiety have a harmful effect on the body long term, leading to mental health difficulties, in addition to a weakened immune system and cardiac and gastrointestinal problems, to name but a few. Emotional regulation is key to managing stress and anxiety and this is something that counselling can really help you to get better at.
7. An opportunity to identify the ways in which you can influence and change your life - it might be that you are feeling stuck in a relationship or job that no longer makes you happy, perhaps your children have gone off to school or university and you now have time to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you are a teenager who has just left school and aren't sure what you want to do next or feel that you don't have any choices in your life as home isn't a safe and happy place to be. Counselling can help you to explore and identify the parts of your life that you might be able to influence in order to create change.
8. A place to reconnect with you - some people just don't feel comfortable in their own skin or struggle to accept who they are, only able to focus on the 'negative' parts of self; the bits that have been heavily criticised by others. Others lose their sense of identity at key transitional moments in their life or within destructive and all-consuming relationships. Counselling can help you to rediscover the real you; the authentic you; the you that can walk down the street and hold their head up high; the you that values themself enough to prioritise self-care.
9. A place to learn to say "no" - how many times do you do something you don't want to in order to please those around you and not let anyone down? Whether that is taking on too much work, agreeing to unreasonable deadlines, going to the party when you actually just want to crawl into bed or always putting the needs of someone else above your own. Eventually not being able to say 'no' can lead to physical and mental burnout. Counselling can help you to instil healthy boundaries in your life so that you are able to be more assertive within your relationships and work.
10. A place to look forwards and identify goals for the future - counselling isn't just about making sense of the past and exploring how those relationships and events feed into your thoughts and feelings in the present. Counselling can also help you to make sense of the future; to identify the changes you wish to make within all aspects of your life and to find the courage and strength to take steps towards achieving those changes.
Counselling can be one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences you can have and the therapeutic relationship is a key driver of having a positive encounter. Seeking counselling is not a sign of weakness, it's an indication that you have recognised something within yourself that is proving to be challenging, embraced your vulnerability and shared it with someone else. That is bravery, that is confidence and that is strength!