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



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

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