What is Counselling?

Counselling is a confidential and supportive place where you can talk about anything that you want to; it’s often easier to talk to someone that is a little more removed from your life than family or friends for the simple reason that you are being viewed with fresh eyes and given the time and space to be your real self. Counselling meets different needs for people depending on what they want to get out of it. For some people, counselling is about recovery, for others it is about sharing and processing, for others it is about change and moving forward. Or maybe a combination of those.

The foundations of counselling are that it provides a safe, confidential space and relationship that is separate from your everyday life. This allows you to speak more openly than you might with friends or family, because your counsellor doesn’t know you in the same way that they do – they see you with fresh eyes, and accept you as you are. This allows you the space, and freedom, to experiment with the ‘you’ that you are presenting, in counselling. For example, this might mean that you share something with your counsellor that you’ve never told anyone before. You can ‘speak the unspeakable’. When you do this, I believe it subtly changes something about you and your identity and allows you to process that information in a different way, or change the way you see or define yourself. And this may be happening in a way that is ‘out of your awareness’. This is often described in counselling literature as a ‘process of change’. Different counsellors will attribute the ‘mechanics’ behind this process to theories that support their particular counselling approach, such as, humanistic, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural, integrative. These are essentially lenses through which to view the process – no single theory has been proven to be superior to another.


Counselling can work in other ways too, such as where you might be facing a particular problem or fear – talking it through with someone else can help you to break it down, see it differently and consider different options and ways of dealing with it.

There is a lot of research to suggest that the most important factors which predict a ‘good outcome’ in counselling are: the counselling relationship; that the therapist is using an approach they are comfortable with; and that you are engaging in a type of therapy that suits you. This is why it is important to find a counsellor that you feel comfortable with.

Counselling often takes place once a week (sometimes less frequently) at a time and place agreed between the counsellor and the person having the counselling (the client). How many sessions you have is something you can discuss with your counsellor during the first session, and you can also agree to review how the counselling is going (for example, if you’d like more sessions; if you’d like to finish counselling) during any session. Counsellors often say they will review with you after a certain number of sessions how you are finding counselling, but this is something you can discuss at any point.

There are many different types of counselling – over 400! But the main ones that you will probably hear about are: Person-centred counselling; cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT); and psychodynamic counselling. A really good overview of what these different therapies are can be found here: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counselling.html

For more information on the kind of counselling I provide, please feel free to take a look around my website. Here’s more about my own approach to counselling: My Counselling Approach

Copyright © 2021 Laura Hughes

Why do people have counselling?

People come to counselling for all sorts of reasons, but it is usually because there is something in their life that they want to change, which is causing them to feel distressed. Perhaps someone is seeking counselling because of what you might call a short-term crisis, such as, difficulties at work. Or perhaps someone wants to have counselling because many smaller, stressful things have happened in a short space of time and they are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes people feel that now is the right time for them14642828_10211327004915777_1423842320_n to begin to explore how they have been affected by major events in their life, such as childhood trauma, or the death of a loved one, which they may have been trying to cope with for a long time.

Counselling offers you the opportunity to talk to someone impartial, who is there to offer acceptance and understanding for how you are feeling and what you have been through. This in itself can be very comforting, and while sharing in a safe, trusting relationship is a fundamental part of therapy, it is not the sole purpose of counselling. The aim is to provide this safe space as a foundation from which you are able to explore and make sense of your thoughts, feelings and experiences so that you can begin to ‘move forward’ again. In my experience as a counsellor, when people meet with me for the first time they are generally feeling stuck in some way and the emotions they present with may be stronger than usual for them, for example, they may be feeling more anxious than usual, more upset than usual. This is an indicator that something in their life is out of balance. Talking it through can be a huge relief.

We all have natural coping resources inside of us that are there to get us through difficult times. But sometimes those resources are ‘running on empty’ or completely overwhelmed by what you are dealing with and can become less effective. A counsellor can share the load that you are carrying and support you to get to a place where you are able to re-engage with your own natural ability to cope. Counsellors can also help you to think of new ways to support your emotional, psychological and overall health and wellbeing.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hughes

The Emotional Impact of Illness

Physical health is often the sole focus of rehabilitation when you have been physically ill: emotional health tends to be forgotten, or you may not be offered help in the same way as for your physical health. Even when the focus is on your recovery from mental illness, you may not get the support you need.

Your life with or following your illness may be very different to life before, and can take a long time to adjust to. Being ill can itself be a traumatic experience, and the changes that follow may leave you feeling lost and alone. With any change comes a sense of loss and may be accompanied by feelings of grief.

Some of the changes you may experience include:

  • Loss of role and identity
  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • Loss of independence
  • More emotional than before
  • Experience of anxiety, panic, depression, trauma

You may have found yourself literally fighting for your life, which can be both terrifying, and give you the opportunity to reassess your life. As joyful as it can be to recover from such an illness, you may be left feeling stunned, as the death you were preparing yourself for never came.

 Family Members, Friends and Carers

Family and friends can also experience huge changes when a loved one is ill. You may take on the role of carer, which can be a huge adjustment. You may experience feelings such as:

  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue (emotional and physical)
  • Depression

You may also have traumatic memories of seeing your loved one struggle with their health both during and after their illness. When someone is ill, the focus is on them which can often leave those supporting that person feeling forgotten about as they too struggle through the daily challenges that illness brings.

Take some time to talk about it

Of course, we all experience ups and downs in life and problems that were around before your ill health (or your loved one’s ill health) may still be there for you to deal with. In the same way, ill health does not stop other things happening in your life. What may change is your ability to cope, especially if you are still dealing with any after-effects of your illness, or progressing with your recovery. Counselling is a safe place for you to explore the impact of your own or someone else’s physical and/or mental illness, as well as any other issues in your life.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hughes



Feeling Trapped

Trapped 1c

There are moments where we have all or will all feel trapped. In a situation, in our mind, in our body. Daily feelings of frustration and stuckness can feel like having lead weights around your shoulders. At times, these feelings can suddenly peak and become terrifying moments of fear, panic and hopelessness. Nothing makes sense in these moments – your existence seems both surreal and yet ultra-real. Sometimes it feels like your head is going to explode. You want the ride to stop so that you can get off.

Times like these can feel the absolute worst for trying to see a way forward – after all, if you knew that you wouldn’t feel like this? So you keep pushing through it and the weights around your shoulders feel heavier. Allowing yourself to stop probably feels the most counter-intuitive thing to do right now… but what if that’s exactly what you need to do?

With anything in life, there is a balance. And sometimes, if you’ve been pushing through a feeling for a long time, you need to balance things out by taking some time to be with that feeling. And this begins by acknowledging it and allowing yourself to really feel it. What form this exactly takes will vary from person to person. The lead weights to one person might equal heartfelt sobs of grief that this is what your life is. For another person, the lead weights might manifest as rage and ‘why me!?’ For someone else it might mean admitting they are exhausted, and having a pyjama day in front of the tv to rest and recharge their batteries. Or maybe a combination of the lot. Sometimes after some rest or rage or a good cry, your head can feel a lot clearer. You’ve done it – you’ve admitted how you really feel behind the daily greyness that is ‘coping’.

I use quotation marks to say ‘coping’ because while we might think this is what we’ve been doing all this time, it’s not always the case. ‘Not coping’ is easily confused with coping – you may have been pushing whatever it is out of your mind, avoiding it, putting a happy face on it. This can be a good thing – as I said, life is about balance – but there comes a point where ‘something’s gotta give.’ You’ve reached boiling point.

Now is a good time to evaluate where you are – is this how you want your life to look? Is a change of career an option? Or retraining? Could my relationships with my family be better? Is this the right relationship for me? Do I need some help with all this?

Sometimes we can’t change the things we would like to, in which case it is just as important to take time out to air your feelings and give yourself some breathing space. Being creative with your feelings can be a safe way to let things out: writing and drawing can help you to understand the feeling better if you can see it solidly on a piece of paper. It can give you a sense of ownership over that feeling. A sense of control. Of validation. Other creative mediums can have this effect too – music, dance, drama.

And for some people saying it out loud to someone who is not there to judge or tell them what to do can be the most powerful and effective way for them to express their feelings and find a way forward. When we communicate our feelings (through whatever medium) we literally let it out of our system and make room for other things, other thoughts and feelings, and make room to move forward. Moving forward can simply mean knowing where you are now, which you may not have done before.

Standing still… to move forward. Life is a paradox!


 Copyright © 2016 Laura Hughes


The Difference between Counselling and Emotional Support

I am in favour of any interaction that provides an individual with the time and space to say what’s on their mind without being judged and to give that person room to breathe and hopefully find life a little easier to cope with. It can be difficult, though, to understand the difference between one type of helping behaviour and another, particularly if they appear to be very similar and share a common aim. Emotional support and counselling are two such helping ‘activities’ that could be easily confused.sky-lantern-11295720102npx

Let’s take a look at emotional support first. We all need emotional support in some way or another and in different quantities depending on what is going on in our lives. Providing emotional support is not necessarily a specific aim of the things we may do to be there for someone but can often be a positive result, for example, spending time with someone, cooking them dinner, helping someone to clean their house, helping to solve a problem: these are social and practical examples of ways we can help others but which may also enhance an individual’s feelings of wellbeing, their ability to cope, and lift their overall mood. Emotional support is an important part of many professions such as social worker, carer, doctor, and teacher and so on. This is because being emotionally healthy is just one element of what makes a healthy person – inside and out.

To try and define emotional support more specifically, it is when we listen and offer empathy and compassion to someone when they are communicating how they are feeling to us; it is about being non-judgemental and allowing someone to express themselves in a safe and supported relationship or interaction. It is about not imposing our views or opinions on someone, but letting them feel accepted for expressing the way they feel – warts and all. Some organisations and charities focus on improving emotional health and supporting people through difficult times by providing trained volunteers who listen non-judgementally, such as Samaritans and SANE.

So how is this any different to counselling? Emotional support is an important and valuable aspect of working with a professional counsellor, but a counsellor is able to offer more still. As mentioned before, other professionals, while offering emotional support as part of a wider role, may not have a specific focus on enhancing an individual’s emotional wellbeing whereas a counsellor’s role is focused on helping an individual to explore and understand their thoughts and feelings. A counsellor is also able to offer an ongoing relationship with an individual: this can help you to really engage in a process of working through your feelings and challenges in life, unlike, for example, an emotional support helpline which although offers potentially life-saving support in many cases (and particularly during crises) does not tend to offer a one-to-one relationship with a sense of consistency and continuity. Research has shown that a good therapeutic relationship between a counsellor and a client is the strongest predictor for a positive outcome for the client, regardless of which counselling approach (i.e. person-centred, cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychodynamic) the counsellor uses, which suggests having a therapeutic relationship is more effective than one-off sessions or sporadic encounters with many different people.

Professional, qualified counsellors will also have spent a substantial amount of time studying different theories of counselling and therapy, as well as having some knowledge of the main schools of thought in psychology such as humanistic psychology, behaviourism, cognitive psychology and positive psychology, to name but a few. This education allows a counsellor to view your experiences not only from your perspective but from a theoretical one too, which can add depth to your experience of counselling and self-discovery. Theories of counselling/therapy/psychology offer a scientific understanding of: the structure of self and personality; the process of change that occurs in therapy; the influence of thoughts on behaviour and emotions (and vice versa); and the role of genetics, biology and environment on an individual’s development and subsequent experiences of the world towering-treesaround them. This knowledge can be used both implicitly and explicitly in the counselling relationship, perhaps according to the counsellor’s own theoretical preference and approach, as well as what each individual client is presenting with.

So how do we know ‘at what point is emotional support not enough?’ and ‘when should I have counselling?’ Very often, people seek out counselling because their emotions have become too much for them to cope with on their own. While those around us may be doing their best to help, sometimes it can be better to speak to someone who is more separate from your day-to-day life and able to view you and your situation with an open mind and no preconceptions. Emotional support can sometimes be enough in a crisis, but where you feel you need more consistent support over a number of weeks, this may be where you decide to have counselling. As mentioned previously, counselling not only offers you support, but an opportunity to explore and understand what you are going through in more depth. This means you can express yourself, giving you more breathing space to help you cope with day-to-day life, but also allow you the time to explore deeper issues that may be impacting on your ability to cope long-term.

Emotional Support Resources:
Samaritans www.samaritans.org
Sane www.sane.org.uk

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hughes (Updated Feb 2017)
Images from PublicDomainPictures.net

Like this article? You might like this one too: Why do people have counselling?

Did you find this blog post useful? I’d love to hear your feedback. Please also remember to reference me if you’re using this for an assignment.

Comparing Pain

How do you compare one type of pain with another? The simple answer is that you can’t and yet we all do it. At one time or another we have probably all said something like ‘I know this is such a small problem compared to the war in…’ or ‘this is nothing compared to what other people go through’ or even ‘you’ve probably talked to people with much worse problems than mine.’ woman-1373188336xVV

Our problems often seem insignificant compared to what is going on in the world around us, or in the lives of people we know, and it can be all too easy to beat yourself up and feel like you should be coping better or that you’re weak for feeling this way.

It’s important to recognise that while, yes, the world is full of horrendous problems and crises, whether they be famine, war or natural disaster, the thoughts and feelings that make up our internal ‘world’ can be as devastating, debilitating and potentially destructive to who we are as individuals if we ignore them. Having perspective does not mean valuing yourself less than someone or something else.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? Perhaps it is a reflection of how much self-compassion we have that we minimise and deny painful emotions and experiences; perhaps the image we hold of ourselves is ‘the person who copes’ or ‘the person who supports everyone else’; or maybe it comes down to self-esteem and not feeling worthy of receiving help and support, even if you are teetering on the edge of an emotional cliff.

As a counsellor, I aim to provide a safe space for people to express their feelings, including their pain and insecurities. Pain is such an individual experience and means different things to different people: you do matter and what you’re going through is important, no matter how small it might seem.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hughes

Image from PublicDomainPictures.net

Choosing a Counsellor

There are many reasons why someone may seek out counselling: perhaps something has happened recently that has left you feeling scared, distressed or confused about life; maybe you’re at a point in your life where you are reflecting on how your experiences have moulded you to become the person you are today. Whatever the reason, it is important to acknowledge that seeking help and support is not an easy thing to do: it takes courage and even taking the first steps can seem frightening and a little overwhelming. Therapeutic relationships offer the opportunity for growth in a way that other relationships may not. They can be very warm, understanding and accepting relationships, where the individual feels able to grow and develop towards the person that they want to be, and away from the person they have always felt they should be.

The very nature of counselling means that you are allowing another person to get to know you, and that could mean letting them see a side to yourself that you have never revealed to anyone else before. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. This is why it is so important to choose a counsellor that you feel comfortable with. This is not to say that in a first meeting you should feel like you should trust your counsellor with absolutely everything and tell them your darkest secrets straight away: safe, trusting relationships take time to develop, and feeling comfortable with your counsellor may simply mean that you want to see them again next week.

Choosing a counsellor is a way of having some control over your own emotional health and wellbeing, so by all means take some time to reflect on that first meeting. How did you feel before the session? How did you feel afterwards? How do you feel about seeing them again? Did I feel listened to? Did they ‘get’ me? These are all really important questions to ask yourself and may help you to decide on whether that counsellor was right for you. It can sometimes help to meet a few different counsellors to ‘try out’ whether there are particular counselling approaches (for example, psychodynamic, person-centred, cognitive-behavioural therapy) that seem to ‘gel’ with you, or types of personalities that you ‘click’ with better, or even whether having a male or female counsellor adds something to your experience. It is not unusual for people to purposely choose to see a counsellor for a reason that would normally make them feel uncomfortable, for example, seeing a male counsellor when they have had issues with relationships with men in the past. Having this element of discomfort or personal history present in the therapeutic relationship can enable the individual to engage in some very challenging yet rewarding work with their counsellor.

Every therapeutic relationship is different, and unique to the individual and their counsellor. It’s OK to decide that a counsellor is not right for you, whether that’s after the first session or after 20! Equally, it may take that amount of time for you to feel like you can begin to open up to your counsellor: counselling is a process and a journey and we all travel at a different pace. We are constantly changing and so are our needs, so what may have seemed a certain way for us 2 months ago is not necessarily how we feel about it at the moment. It may seem a scary prospect, but if you feel that something is not quite right, think about discussing it with your counsellor. They are there to support you and if something is not working they will want to help you.

This is your journey. Maybe you have a destination, maybe it’s all a little foggy at the moment. Wherever you are and whatever you’re feeling, there is someone out there who wants to help, and it is within your control to decide who that person will be.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hughes