Probably the most common opening to a first counselling session is “I’m not sure I need counselling, but…” And I imagine a lot of you reading this might be having the same thought, and the same feelings of hesitation and wariness. So how do you know if you need counselling?
It is usually not too difficult to tell when we are unhappy or dissatisfied with life. Often the reason is an obvious one. Maybe a relative or friend has died or we have lost something precious. Maybe we are behaving in ways which are making day-to-day living difficult, obsessing about dripping taps or exploding with anger at work or at school, or harming ourselves in different ways and becoming secretive or dishonest.
Sometimes the reason for our unhappiness is less clear. We may feel flat or stifled even when everything is apparently going well. We may be feeling alone despite lots of Facebook friends. We may even feel cross with those we love, parents or partners. And we may feel ashamed that we can’t make everything ok for ourselves, that we should be happy. Or even that we are somehow not like everyone else, that we are bad or evil. But what’s the use in talking to a complete stranger about all that?
Talking to family
Our friends, peers, colleagues and family often notice when we are unhappy. “You don’t seem your usual self today,” they might say, or simply “What’s up? Are you alright?” And we will often answer, “Oh, I’m OK” or, “It’s nothing, I’m just a bit tired”.
The point is that it is not easy sharing how we really feel, even when we have suffered a loss and it should be understood by those around us why we are sad. There are many reasons for this. The most common one is being afraid of the consequences.
Telling our parents that we are cutting on our legs is likely to lead to a massive row and blame and more upset. We may avoid telling our Line Manager that we feel depressed, for fear that we will be seen as weak or even passed over for promotion.
Our friends will listen and be kind but our fear is that we are becoming less and less attractive or fun to be around – that they will tire of us because we are needy and bring down the mood. The ideal person would be somebody with whom we have no ties. Who will listen but not judge us as a fun or dull friend, good or bad child, a weak or strong colleague, a kind or evil person. Counsellors offer this.
Taking to a counsellor
A counsellor will listen to what we are saying and also to what we are not saying, what we find difficult or impossible to put into words. A counsellor will accept us exactly as we are, whatever we think of ourselves or what we have done. A counsellor will not give us answers, or tell us how to live our lives, or offer sympathy.
A counsellor will work hard to allow us to see for ourselves how other people see us, how we affect other people and how our behaviour links to our ways of understanding the world around us. A counsellor will believe in our potential to be different or to realise our dreams or to make changes when we are struggling to see how that could possibly be.