So, what is Counselling?

Therapy, therapist, counsellor, counselling are all words in common usage these days. Whilst watching trashy TV for 45 minutes the other day I saw:

I am sure that you yourself could come up with many more examples given 5 minutes. Even family movies have psychotherapy references: warthogs, meerkats and baboons have been known to offer help (The Lion King – in case you were wondering).

We’ve also all seen the reams of “inspirational memes” that fill up Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines, for example the one about sometimes talking to your best friend is the only therapy you need.

And there are those who say that we are medicalising and pathologising normal everyday problems and emotions. I totally get that. However, I feel that counselling is there for you when your normal coping strategies and support networks fail. I rather like Thomas Szasz’ (1960) concept of “problems in living”: Szasz sees an individual as experiencing problems in living which may be anything that has happened to make that individual’s personal niche unliveable, and the assistance of a counsellor is sought to resolve this situation. At a seminar in 2007 he said: “Psychotherapy is one of the most worthwhile things in the world.”

Often clients really don’t want to say the things they say to me to people that they are going to have to see day in day out or in sensitive social or work related situations. Some things are really just too personal, awkward, embarrassing or painful. As a counsellor I have no part in peoples’ daily lives, both me and the clients’ thoughts stay neatly in my little box (aka counselling room). I am very careful to state that should I bump into a client outside of the counselling room that I will not acknowledge them in any way so as not to put them in an awkward position of having to explain who I am. Some clients are 100% comfortable and happy to say “Hi” and to introduce me to their companions, whereas others would rather streak at Britannia Stadium on Match day…

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) summarises by saying “therapy offers you a safe, confidential place to talk about your life and anything that may be confusing, painful or uncomfortable”. It also has a longer explanation of “What is Counselling?”