By – Daphne J Williams, MSW, RSW, OSP
As a Psychotherapist, counselling makes sense to me. And yet, for many it just doesn’t.
TV shows and movies give somewhat distorted views of what happens in a counselling session, and interesting views of what a counsellor or therapist really does. Some of the TV ‘professionals’ (I will not name names) give the impression that significant life changes can occur within a 15 moment segment of their show. This apparently occurs simply by the professional asking one or two questions and then offering a summary of what they believe is going on in the patients life. The patient seemingly does very little. Counselling is not one of the first choices we make in terms of what to do with our time. After all, what good would it do to talk to someone I do not know about what is going on in my life? What if they do not understand? What if they do not think my problems are really serious? What if they do not believe me? What if someone finds out I am talking to a therapist? They might think I am crazy? After all, only ‘crazy’ people see therapists? Right?
Now, I am certainly not going to agree with this last question, as I truly believe it is a healthy choice to seek counselling when we find ourselves in emotional difficulty. However, equally, having questions about what counselling can offer is a great beginning. So, before you make up your mind to either talk to a therapist or not, I’d like to explain a few things about what counselling is, and is not.
- WHAT’S IN A NAME: You will have noticed that I have already used a number of words when referring to what I do for a living …. ie Counsellor, Therapist, Psychotherapist. Basically, all refer to to the practice of therapy ….. and offer the patient/client an idea of the professionals training and/or the depth of the work being done. It is always a good idea to talk with the therapist you are speaking with about any concerns you may have about the process.
- WHAT GOOD WILL SPEAKING WITH A THERAPIST DO FOR ME? This is a great question. For this articles sake, I will give you the short answer. Often when we are upset by a situation in our life, we ‘think’ about it a lot. In other words, we ‘worry’ about it. And if or when we speak with a friend about the situation, we already really know what they are going to say. After all, they are your friend. The advantage then of speaking with someone like me is that you get to describe a situation to someone you do not know ….. which often means that you must describe it differently then if you spoke with a friend. Then, because I do not know anything about you or the situation (and those involved in it), I will need to ask questions which in turn hopefully will help you to see it a little differently. And finally, and probably most importantly, what you tell me is totally confidential. You can (and really need to be) totally honest with me without wondering whether someone you know will find out what you are talking to me about.
- WHAT IF THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND? And yet, what if they do!
- WHAT IF THEY DO NOT THINK MY PROBLEMS ARE VERY SERIOUS? My belief here is that if you consider the ‘problem’ serious or if it is causing you to consider speaking with someone like me ….. then it is serious. My goal as a therapist is to help the people I see to live their lives well ….. and to be able to handle situations, cope with events, and live the life they want to. If a concern (worry, stress, anxiety, event, situation, or people) are preventing this from happening in your life (at this point in time) …. then speaking with someone about it is probably a very good idea. It is much easier to resolve concerns when they are developing rather than after they have taken hold of your life.
- WHAT IF THEY DO NOT BELIEVE ME? If your concern is something which impacts your life right now, and you would like to resolve its impact on you, then there is no reason a therapist would not believe you.
- WHAT IF SOMEONE FINDS OUT I AM SPEAKING WITH A THERAPIST? That actually totally depends on you. Legally I am not permitted to tell anyone I am seeing you [or speaking with you]. There are only two exceptions to this. The first is if you are considering hurting yourself and are unable to agree to a safety plan with me [we would have discussed this together]. In this case, I am obligated [by law] to keep you safe. The second exception is if you were to disclose to me that you had been involved in a sexual assault. In both cases I will speak with you openly about what I need to do, and together work towards the best outcome for you.
- ONLY ‘CRAZY’ PEOPLE SEE THERAPIST? Actually, the reverse is true. Healthy people who see that their feelings, thoughts, emotions are impacting their lives in a negative manner are the people who seek out counselling for themselves. And because they initiate the therapeutic process, they actually are the ones that receive the most benefit.
- HOW LONG DOES THERAPY LAST? This depends on two things. The concerns that led you to therapy, and on the amount of work (yes work) you are prepared to do in our work together. There are patients I have seen over a period of time, and some I see only once or twice. [Sessions are scheduled in the time frame that make the most sense for you …. and can be weekly, bi-weekly, etc.]. In face-to-face counselling, sessions are usually 50 minutes in length and offered at a scheduled time. On-line counselling is different in that you would be able to write me when it best works for you and look forward to a response from me at an agreed upon time.
You may have more questions than I have suggested here. If so, can I suggest you write them down …. and schedule a session with a therapist to discuss them. Beginning this way can help you gain a sense of how we can work together.
I hope I have answered a few questions you might have, and explained a little about the process of counselling. I will conclude here with a few ‘what therapy is not’ ideas ….. and ‘what therapy is’!
WHAT THERAPY IS NOT!
- Is not the therapist ‘telling’ you what to do.
- Is not the therapist telling you that you are right or wrong.
- Is not the therapist solving your concerns or worries.
- Is not a punishment.
- A way of looking at your concerns, worries or problems in a different way.
- A relationship with someone with whom you work to look at you life in a new way.
- Hard work!