Counselling occurs when a counsellor sees a client in a private and confidential setting to explore a difficulty the client is having, distress they may be experiencing or perhaps their dissatisfaction with life or loss of a sense of direction and purpose. It is always at the request of the client and no one can properly be ‘sent’ for counselling. By listening attentively and patiently the counsellor can begin to perceive the difficulties from the client’s point of view and can help them to see things more clearly, possibly from a slightly different angle. Counselling is a way of facilitating choice or change or reducing confusion. “I don’t know which way to turn... what to do... what’s the matter with me”, are frequent opening remarks. In the counselling sessions the client is enabled to explore various aspects of their life and feelings concerning those aspects, talking about them freely and openly in a way that is rarely possible with friends or family, to a person who neither judges nor offers advice. Bottled-up feelings such as anger, anxiety, grief and embarrassment can become very intense. An opportunity to express them, thus making them easier to understand. The counsellor will encourage the expression of feelings and as a result of their training will be able to accept the client’s feelings without becoming burdened by them. The client can gain self-respect and a sense of being of value by having their feelings acknowledged, and thereby being accepted and respected as a person in their own right. The relationship between the client and the counsellor is an essential part of the process. Therefore as trust is built up, the counsellor will encourage the clients to look at aspects of their lives; their relationships and themselves, which they may not have thought of or felt able to face before. There may be some exploration of early relationships to discover how they came to react to certain people or situations in certain ways that contribute to their difficulties, followed by consideration of ways in which they might change. The counsellor may set out the options open to clients and help them to follow whichever one they choose. The counsellor may help the client to examine in detail the situations or behaviour which are proving troublesome and to find a small but crucial point where it would be possible to initiate some change as a start. Whatever approach the counsellor uses, and these are only examples, client autonomy is the ultimate aim: for the client to make their own choices, to make their own decisions and put them into action.
How long will it take?
Counselling may end after a few sessions (sometimes even a single session gives sufficient help) or it may continue over several weeks or many months. Some counsellors specialise in particular areas, such as problems related to alcohol, eating disorders or to sexual matters. They may give information and advice based on their specialist knowledge and experience.