What do you look for in a counsellor?

Recently, I was working at an agency: clients wait in a waiting room and counsellors come out of the “office” and gently call their name to identify their new client. On this particular day, when I called my new client’s name the person who stood up did not match the image I had built in my head from facts on the referral form. Interestingly, the same client said that they had hoped that I was their counsellor, but that they had thought a colleague looked more like a “Neroli” than me.

This led me to do some thinking. Obviously I had built up some preconceptions as to who my client was from the referral form. I am a very visual person so I had pictured my client but had got it so very, very wrong, a bit like when you watch a movie based on a book you’ve read, the visuals don’t match.

Intriguingly my client had decided that they had wanted to work with me before I had even known that they were my client. I wondered on what basis this decision had been made. How was I presenting myself? How many clues was I giving away without knowing? I was reminded of the party game where you have a character’s name attached to your forehead and you have to ask questions in order to guess who are you: Marilyn Monroe, Nelson Mandela, Groucho Marx…
Who am I? There is a section on this website entitled “About – Who am I?” in which I attempt to give a snapshot of me as a Counsellor and a tiny peek as to me as a person. But, I wonder what do my clients see? What do my clients want to see?

I find the concept of appearance and how a client receives a counsellor and vice versa intriguing. We are all living beings/animals and as such we have our survival instincts; it is well known in the business world that you have less than 30 seconds to make a good first impression? People make snap judgments almost immediately on meeting you and you may never get a chance to change their opinion.

Counselling theory says that counselling is relational (a connection between two people), and that the therapeutic relationship is the crux of counselling. So it follows that who we are as counsellor and client must be very important. “The actual contact between a counsellor and a person who is seeking help lies at the heart of what counselling is about”, says John McLeod in his book An Introduction To Counselling.

This leads me on to thinking: does my therapist have to be like me? Will Meyerhofer’s blog post “Does my therapist have to look like me?” covers this very eloquently. My favourite line is “My job is to listen, and try to understand. Theoretically, I should be able to listen to anyone – anyone – and understand him, whether he’s black, white or purple.” I agree with his conclusion: “What really matters isn’t whether your therapist looks like you, or acts like you – it’s whether he understands you. His competency depends not only on his background or experience, but how well he does his job.”

Anïas Nin quote image: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/104303814/anais-nin-quote-letterpress-poster-12

Hedbanz by Spin Master Games