Welcome Empowered Readers
There is unfortunately a lot of stigma around seeing a therapist in our society, even though the conversation around mental wellness has increased. There can be a lot of generalizations and stereotypes when it comes to certain professions, and counselling is definitely one of them!
As I was relating to my own experiences around seeing a counsellor, I reflected back to a part of my life where I was struggling and felt I needed external support. This specific time in my life I thought that a counsellor would be that external support that I might need, but I felt ashamed and nervous about the whole process. It was at this point that I realized I needed to gain more understanding on the process. Because how could I feel that a counsellor might provide the support needed, but feel ashamed by reaching out to one? This information helped normalize the process for me, and I want to share this information with my readers in hopes of normalizing the counselling experience for them and clarifying any wrong misconceptions.
Why would someone choose to see a counsellor?
One common misconception many people have is that one has to be in a crisis, desperate, or “crazy”, in order to see a mental health professional. Counselling is not always this dramatic. Others may also think that counselling consists of a client telling the therapist their deepest darkest secrets, and then having the therapist give advice, or “do” certain techniques on them. Sure, I often see clients who are experiencing a crisis, feel desperate, feel like they are going “crazy”, and who do share very personal secrets that they have not shared with anyone else. However, this does not represent everyone I have seen working as a counsellor. The majority of the people I see are experiencing common life challenges and simply are searching for another type of support, one they don’t get in their everyday life.
These life challenges may include anxiety, life transitions, stress and exhaustion, self-compassion, self-esteem issues, and the list goes on...And, who doesn’t experience one or all of these? They are a part of life.
One of the biggest misconceptions I would like to tackle is the notion that by providing counselling (or “counsel”), one gives advice. Yes, the term counselling is actually a bit misleading, but many within the field actually try to avoid giving advice. In its simplest form, or how I provide counselling in my private practice, counselling is a special kind of relationship. Often I hear clients say “I can’t talk about this stuff with anyone else”, “my partner doesn’t understand”, or “I am scared to tell my loved ones, I feel like they will judge me”. The job of a counsellor is to adhere to ethics of the profession and provide a safe space, free of judgement and advice-giving, and provide unconditional support. And if your counsellor knows of a professional who has better expertise in whatever it is you’re dealing with (i.e. a niche), they can always refer.
Is my counsellor just a paid friend?
This is another great question, and the short answer is – No! A registered counsellor will have gone through immense amounts of training that qualifies them above a “friend-type” relationship. There are registration bodies that counsellors can become members of, which protects you as a client to ensure they have particular qualifications and abide by a particular ethical code of practice. Counsellors provide a type of support that is different from friends and family.
Often friends and family do their best to try and support us, however it is quite common to hear from clients, that no matter how large ones support network is, they still feel lonely in whatever they’re going through. It is this sense of loneliness that can be the catalyst to seeking support from a counsellor. But this doesn’t mean that ones friends or family aren’t being supportive, it may just mean that their love for and relationship with this person gets in the way of them being able to fully support them in the way it is most needed. Other people may not even feel comfortable confiding in their loved ones.
On top of providing support, a counsellor will use their expertise to provide guidance and direction in certain areas of concern. So depending on what area of concern you’re dealing with, you can search for a counsellor who will have experience in that area and provide therapy using empirically-supported methods – meaning research has found the counselling approach to be effective.
The Client is in Charge
Yes, you read that right. You as the client are in charge of the counselling relationship. It is quite common that I hear that someone has tried out counselling once, realized that they didn’t “gel” with the counsellor, or their personalities clashed, or that it just didn’t feel right, and they’ll never go back to counselling again.
It is important to understand that counsellors are incredibly diverse in their approach, style, and personalities. We ARE our work; all of these factors define what a session will look like. Shop around for a counsellor – you wouldn’t go to a store and pay for an expensive pair of jeans just because they’re the most convenient. You would go to a few stores and try to find a pair that fit just right, that will last a long time, and that will give you your money’s worth. The idea of being an informed consumer means that you have the right to find the best fit no matter what service you are seeking. This applies to counselling as well.
It is also important to remember that because you’re in charge, if there is something in your counselling session that is not working, feels awkward or uncomfortable, tell your counsellor! It is the concept of speaking up for yourself that goes against the social norm of being polite or the idea of the professional as the expert. It’s important to remind yourself that the counselling session is for you. You are the expert in your life, more so than any trained professional. The more active of a participant you are, the more you’ll get out of your session. And know that we are trained to receive feedback and our job is to adapt as needed. I take pride in creating a equal partnership with my clients. Trust, rapport and unconditional positive regard are the basis of all the working relationships I create with my clients.
Take a risk, speak up, and take your mental wellness into your own hands. Please leave a comment, like or share if this blog has helped change your thinking surrounding what counselling is, or if you have any other questions about the process.
To your empowered living,
"What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly."