Counselling is usually about change
If you're considering going to counselling, then the chances are that you want something to be different.
Maybe you want to feel or act differently. You might want to make sense of something. Maybe you want to get someone off your back and agreeing to go to counselling seems a good way to do it.
Whether you want to stop or start or step sideways, it's all about change.
Sometimes change is fun and fantastic and you step right up and take the challenge. Sometimes it's scary or confusing or incredibly aggravating. You might find yourself very sad, or tired, or feeling out of your depth.
Sometimes you want change and sometimes you just have to deal with it.
Counselling will help you to sort out the nature of the change that's happening for you. It will help you to decide if little adjustment will be best or if a major transformation is what you're after. It will help you to sort out your thoughts and feelings about the change so you are better placed to choose how to act.
You might be toying with the idea of going to counselling but worrying that the counsellor will be a total flake, or that you'll do the wrong thing, or that you'll feel foolish telling your story to someone else. Or maybe you're hoping for some answers but you can't see how a stranger can figure out what's best for you.
The 'first time' at counselling is often something of a last resort. Its what you do when you're desperate enough to try almost anything, even talking about your personal business with a stranger.
When you consider opting for counselling, an idea of what to expect may put you in a better position to get the best out of it.
The first thing is to be clear about your expectations. You want some answers, and counsellors will be trying to make sure that you get some. But they aren't likely to do that by telling you what to do or what to think. They'll do it by encouraging you to find some 'answers' of your own.
Sometimes that feels very irritating, as if someone is insisting that you jump through hoops before they let you in on the information you need. Or it can feel like a waste of money, paying for a counsellor when you end up doing all the work.
Your counsellor isn't setting out give you a raw deal or to annoy you. The thing is they can't live your life for you. So it follows that they can't give you their 'answers' or make your changes for you. In order to do their job, they need to help you develop your own strengths and resources.
Often what you expect from a counsellor is advice about the issue that concerns you. What you're usually getting from a counsellor is attention. They'll listen to your story and they'll notice what's important about it to you. They'll notice what you emphasize and what you miss out, what you value and what you dismiss. And they'll invite you to notice it too.
Through the counsellor's attention, you usually end up with a lot more information about your situation. Your story becomes much richer, you know more about what you're feeling and what you're reacting to.
Goals and Plans
With all that information you start to form some ideas about what you want. Sometimes those goals are pretty much like the ones you came in with. Sometimes the information you get gives you a different perspective on where to start or where to head and the goals are quite different from your early expectations.
A counsellor will help you to develop those goals, to work towards them, to notice your progress and to keep checking whether the goals are still relevant.
So most counsellors don't give you 'advice' in the way you might initially expect, but they will help you to understand your situation and to make your own plan. One that is tailor made for you by you, the best expert on you there is.
Counsellors view their work in different ways but many agree that facilitating change is central. You come to counselling because you want something to be different. Your counsellor's role is to help you identify and understand the difference you want. They help you recognise and use your resources and talents to make those changes. They help you to notice the changes as they happen.
And when you're talking change but not doing it, then your counsellor is probably going to draw your attention to that too. They might ask you questions you find difficult. It can be distressing, frustrating, sometimes its exciting. It's not about your counsellor catching you out, its about you figuring out how to get yourself working in your own best interests.
Counsellors use all sorts of different approaches. Some do a lot of listening, some ask a lot of questions. Some invite you to bring your partner or your teenager or your family along if its relevant to include them. Some counsellors will get you acting out different people in your situation, maybe your partner or your parents. They may get you to act out a conversation between the part of you that wants one thing and the part of you that disagrees.
Other counsellors will get you drawing, or writing in a journal, or writing letters to yourself. Others will get you to make charts that help you to keep track of the number of times something happens, and what goes on in connection with that. There are as many different styles of counselling as there are counsellors.
The thing you need to know is that you chose whether to participate or not. If you don't want to keep a journal, or have a conversation between different parts of yourself, that's your decision.
It's probably worth thinking about why you don't want to do something. Often it's because something feels unfamiliar. Maybe you worry that you won't do it well enough. From a counselling point of view unfamiliar can be great. It means you don't have a whole lot of habits associated with the activity. So you may find you discover things when you draw, that you're skilled at not noticing when you talk or write.
You're not trying to paint the Mona Lisa, you're looking to uncover and change patterns that no longer serve you well. Doing something different is often a good place to start.
Respect for you
However different their approaches there are some things most counsellors will have in common. Their main concern will be you and your well being. They aren't interested in judging you, that only makes their job harder. They want to understand what's important to you because that helped them to work with you more effectively.
They won't go home and gossip about you. What you say stays confidential. The only exceptions are a serious risk to someone's safety and talking to their supervisor. The supervisor is an experienced counsellor. Their focus is on your counsellor's work with you, making sure it is effective, ethical and safe.
Counsellor's are usually pretty comfortable about people expressing their feelings. They've done their share of crying and yelling and laughing and sulking. They won't be embarrassed by the emotions you express or talk about. Your feelings are part of you, and they will be welcome in the counselling room along with everything else you have to bring.
Your counsellor will be full of ways to support you to make the changes you want. Whether it's motivation to keep trying, appreciation of your effort and the progress you make, or ways to develop your ability to live the life you want, your counsellor can help you to make a difference.
Getting More Information
If you're still wondering if counselling would be helpful for you, then ring a few counsellors up, talk to them about what they do, keep on trying till you find a counsellor you feel comfortable with. Try a few out and pick the one that suits you best.
You can call 0800 735 283 and ask for Relationships Aotearoa's leaflet on choosing the counsellor who's right for you if you want more information on issues about getting the right counsellor.