Counselling is a form of therapeutic listening based on ordinary human communication skills and aims to provide clients with an opportunity to work towards living in a more satisfying and resourceful way.
What can Counselling treat?
Anyone, including young children, can see a therapist. Play therapy for children is the realm of the specialist and is available in most NHS hospitals. Some have special training for counselling young people and families. Counselling is suitable for a wide variety of emotional conditions including:
- major life changes such as bereavement or divorce
- depression and anxiety
- physical problems of a psychosomatic origin
- eating disorders
- relationship problems
- personal development
- emotional instability
- emotional effects of serious ill health (counselling can also be used therapeutically to assist the healing process)
Counselling is a contractual arrangement when a counsellor meets a client in privacy and confidence to explore a difficulty or distress they may be experiencing, perhaps their dissatisfaction with life. One of its main aims, according to the British Association for Counselling (BAC), is "to guide us from feeling victims of circumstances to feeling we have some control over our lives."
Counselling is always undertaken at the request of the client and no one can properly be ‘sent’ for counselling. Counselling will help you make decisions but a counsellor will not tell you what to do.
Counsellors may use a variety of approaches including psychodynamic (working with the unconscious mind) and humanistic (based on a ‘non-directive’ approach). Counselling may involve other forms of creative expression such as art, drama, music, dance or play. Some practitioners are specially trained to work with couples, families or groups. Groups can also be joined by individuals working on similar problems.
Counsellors place a great importance on their own personal therapy as it helps them experience the role of the client, increasing their understanding of themselves and others.
Consultation and treatment
The initial consultation will be an opportunity to discuss whether continued counselling would be appropriate to your needs. It is generally without obligation on either side. Practical considerations such as time, place, cost and duration of meetings will be decided; feel free to ask questions about the counsellor’s professional background. Take this time to build up an idea of what is involved and make up your mind if this is the counsellor you can work with.
The consultation usually takes the form of conversation between client and therapist during which the client is able to talk freely. A session is usually 50 minutes. While deep-rooted problems will need maybe a weekly session for several years, short term counselling for a specific problem may take only a few weekly sessions. In a few cases, one visit will be all that is necessary. This will be discussed and negotiated with your counsellor.
Costs start from £15 or £20 per session. Most counsellors believe that some payment, however small, reflects the client’s commitment. Charges may be open to negotiation if there is a genuine problem about paying. For free or low-cost counselling, contact the organisations mentioned below. Some practitioners set aside a few sessions per week for people who have difficulty paying the whole fee. Counselling is also available free on the NHS and your GP can refer you on.
There are lots of self-help publications on the market. However, seeing a counsellor can offer additional discipline, structure and human contact to any process of personal development.
How to find a practitioner
Contact The British Association for Counselling (BAC), the main body in the UK representing counselling, for a directory of reputable practitioners. Only practitioners on the UK Register of Counsellors, the National Register of Psychotherapists, the British Psychological Society (BPS), Register of Chartered Psychologists, COSCA accredited members and properly-supervised practising BAC members are included. All practitioners listed are covered by a Code of Ethics and Practice and a Complaints Procedure. Contact the UK Register of Counsellors to find out whether a counsellor is registered.
To register, counsellors must either complete a BAC accredited course and 450 hours of supervised practice or seven years’ practice and 150 hours of supervised practice.
The final judge of whether a counsellor is right for you can only be yourself. Talk to a counsellor and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Then ask yourself if you would feel comfortable telling this person intimate details of your life.
Avoid counselling if you suffer from any psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia or manic depression.