How can counselling help?
Counselling may be able to help you improve your life in many different areas, such as
- coping with anxiety or stress,
- dealing with mild to moderate depression,
- getting a good night’s sleep,
- making sensible decisions,
- improving social skills,
- getting rid of an unwanted habit,
- confidence in public speaking,
- effective learning strategies,
- overcoming a phobia.
So if there’s a specific area of your life that you’d like to work on, then counselling may be the right choice for you. Counselling is a “talking therapy”, and a counselling session is like a friendly conversation in which I can help you think about what you’re doing at the moment and how you can do things differently. There are various approaches to counselling, some of which you may have heard about.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is an approach that doctors sometimes recommend, particularly for anxiety or mild to moderate depression. It recognises that there are five areas that affect how we behave in a particular situation:
- the situation itself, which may give rise to
- the thoughts we have about the situation,
- the emotions we experience,
- any physical sensations that accompany the emotions,
- any actions we take as a result of all of this.
So for example suppose you are walking along the street and you see someone you know, but they are looking rather preoccupied and they ignore you. You might think, “They deliberately ignored me because they don’t like me”, and you might then feel upset, and experience a sinking feeling in your stomach, and you might go home and not talk to anyone for the rest of the day. Alternatively you might think, “They look anxious, I wonder if they’re all right”, and you might then feel perfectly comfortable in yourself and decide to walk over and have a conversation with them.
These ways of thinking, feeling and acting tend to reinforce themselves; so if you felt bad about yourself and didn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the day, then you would be even more inclined to start imagining that other people didn’t like you. This is where CBT can help, by looking at your thoughts and assumptions and seeing where these are unrealistic, and offering more useful ways of thinking.
Other counselling approaches
CBT is one of several therapies sometimes described as solution-focused, because they focus on finding solutions in the present and future, rather than looking at the causes of problems in the past. Some other solution-focused approaches (including NLP) place more emphasis on getting a clear sense of how you want the future to be, and finding areas of your life where you already have the resources to put this into practice. My belief is that all these different approaches can be helpful, and I draw on whichever seems most appropriate for each person that I work with.
Solution-focused approaches can lead to results quite quickly, but they are not the answer for everyone; some people are looking for a slower and more supportive kind of counselling, where they can simply talk things through and know that they will be understood and accepted. In this situation a person-centred approach is likely to be most helpful. Person-centred therapy was developed by Carl Rogers in the 1940s, and it maintains that there are three “core conditions” which the counsellor must satisfy in order to allow therapeutic change to happen:
- Unconditional positive regard,
- Empathic understanding,
- Congruence (genuineness).
Personally I am committed to meeting these conditions in my relationship with anyone that I work with, whether I’m using a solution-focused or a person-centred approach, as I believe that a good therapeutic relationship is the key to effective and lasting change.