How counselling can help
There are many myths out there surrounding the idea of counselling, many of which are rooted in outdated ideas about psychology and psychotherapy.
You may be familiar with some of the following: Counselling is a crutch, it’s for “weak” people who can’t manage their own problems; going to a counsellor means you are “crazy”, or one step away from the “looney bin”; someone who doesn’t know me can’t help me; everyone will know I’m seeing a counsellor; counselling involves months of lying on a couch digging up my worst memories and talking about my childhood.
Such descriptions generally come from people who have never attended counselling and these types of statements can often prevent people from seeking the help they need.
The first step in understanding how counselling can help is to challenge some of the common myths and misconceptions:
FACT: Counselling is not a crutch – it is a means for helping people who have made the courageous decision to face their difficulties directly. There is nothing weak about being in counselling. In fact, it requires strength to take action toward solving personal challenges as this includes taking on responsibility for one’s needs and perceived problems. Practitioners work on helping people use their own inner resources to get their needs met more successfully.
FACT: All of us experience various hurdles in our lives, and speaking with an objective and non-judgmental third party does not equal having a mental illness. Although many counsellors have experience working with mental health issues, and various therapeutic methods can be utilised by qualified counsellors in the treatment of such issues, seeking counselling can often be more about seeking help when the world seems a little “crazy”.
FACT: Counselling should be a safe, objective, non-judgmental space where you should feel comfortable enough to share what you want to and speaking to someone unfamiliar to you or your family can often be one of the most helpful elements of counselling. Because counsellors have training and experience with seeing people facing various forms of challenges, they may often ask questions or share observations that can reveal things that conversations with friends or family members may not. These revelations can lead the client to make the decision to take action towards positive growth in their lives.
FACT: Confidentiality is an essential element of the counselling process and should be discussed with you during your first session. There are exceptions to confidentiality, but these exist only for legal and safety purposes, and should be clearly outlined by the counsellor.
FACT: Counselling can be either short or long term, depending on client goals and preference. A person may decide to visit a counsellor only once, or they may determine that a few visits would be helpful, or that an ongoing process is needed; a counsellor can help you with this decision and should ask you what you want. Clients should be seen as the experts on their own lives and the therapeutic process should involve teamwork and collaboration focusing on concerns chosen by the client.
Although past experiences can have a profound effect on us and how we feel about ourselves, these do not have to be the focus of counselling.
Psychodynamic counselling or psychotherapy focus on how past experiences may be contributing to difficulties being experiences in the present, but there are other therapeutic models, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or solution focused therapy, that are short-term forms of counselling and focus on solving your present-day problems.
The Employee Assistance Programme is designed as a brief treatment service based on one to 12 sessions and a variety of treatment models are used depending on a client’s areas of concern; outside referrals can be made for those who decide on a longer term process.
Counsellors can help with a wide range of problems, difficulties, and concerns. These may be of a personal nature, or may involve relationships, family issues, or work. A person can bring any challenge that they feel is making it difficult to live their life the way they want to.
Counselling should not be directive or advisory, but rather act as a mirror; we have all had experience with not being able to see things about ourselves without a mirror. Depending on what a person chooses or is able to share, a counsellor can help to explore how to progress toward living in a way that feels healthier and more positive to them.
Thinn Aung is a counsellor with the Employee Assistance Programme of the Cayman Islands. For more information on this topic, or to schedule a confidential appointment, contact project at 949-9559.