Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have someone listen non-judgmentally and with interest to what you think/ believe/ want/ hope for/ fear/ hate/ distrust/ desire/ need? Or even just someone to bounce ideas off of? Just be there while you cry? Help you find creative or practical solutions to your struggles? That is the very definition of a counsellor.
But isn’t counselling just for people who are crazy? Depressed? Alcoholics?
Sure, I would definitely recommend counselling for those struggling with mental health issues, those stuck in negative patterns, those experiencing crisis or those living highly stressful, anxious lives; however counseling can also work wonders for the everyday person who wants to think, feel, problem solve, create and grow in the presence of, and with help from another caring and thoughtful person. Maybe it’s a habit you want to break. Perhaps you’re struggling with family conflict. Or maybe you’re unhappy in your job, and need some guidance in figuring out what career will really make you happy. Sometimes people just want to get something off of their chest, or ask philosophical questions. Most often, someone is struggling to understand a situation or needing support through a difficult time or major change. Counselling can be a great option in these situations!
So what’s stopping you? The way counseling is portrayed in movies and TV shows can paint a judgy, awkward and pretentious picture It is also often used interchangeably with the word “therapy” — the differences between the two lie in the certification of the provider, as well as the presenting topic – more medical and diagnosed mental health concerns should seek therapy. But in reality, while there may be a couch or a comfy chair, therapists are not detached, distracted listeners who charge an arm and a leg for an hour of their time and come out with a statement full of judgment or a diagnosis that paints you with a negative brush. Just because you receive counseling doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong with you. A lot of people seek out a counsellor to help them with a goal or dream, and still others for support as they hope to help others through their struggles.
Seeing a counsellor also doesn’t mean you’ll need medication, group therapy or extensive, lifelong treatment programs. While all of the above are a possibility depending on the situation, a good counselor will start with the gentlest strategies to find success, and only work with what you are comfortable with. A good counsellor listens, helps you find your strengths, identifies thoughts, feelings, questions and answers and helps you to realize the changes or directions you would like to go. They support you during your difficult times, celebrate your good times and guide you through goal setting, reflection and problem solving.
It’s also easy for people to get hung up on the cost of therapy — which can run the gamut from $80 to $200 for a session (usually an hour in length). Therapy is expensive, but it’s an investment and you should be getting a return on your investment. There are other things that are expensive, that we don’t question the finances of so much, such as hiring a good attorney if you’re going through a divorce. Also, often private health care plans will cover the cost of counselling sessions, and sometimes companies or employers will have Employee Assistance Plans for the same purpose. I often tell people that they are going to “work through” their challenges one way or another: spending money on counselling is a good investment as opposed to alcohol, shopping, shoes, gambling, food or other distraction techniques…
“But aren’t therapists just people you’re paying to listen to your problems?” you may ask. While compassionate listening is an important part of the counseling process, therapists have master’s and doctorate degrees and have spent years studying how people change, relationships, work environments, conflict resolution and communication. We spend years living in those systems and training in those systems so we can help you get to that part of yourself to understand the things that are driving your habits and choices. There are many theories, strategies and evidence based practices based on solid research that these professionals can draw upon once the client is ready to move on to problem solving and/ or change.
So how would you even start? The first step to starting therapy is to find a therapist. If cost is an important factor, you could ask your insurance company for a list of therapists who would be considered in-network. There are also government organizations and Not-For-Profit support services. Still more private offices may offer “sliding-scale” programs. Churches and schools also have people trained in counselling. You could also try searching the internet, yellow-pages, social media or friends to ask for a list of mental health professionals. Especially if you are looking for a therapist for a particular issue (i.e. divorce, weight loss, grief), referrals from friends/ family or specific internet searches may be the way to go! There are also more and more online options (cyber-counselling) over email popping up to offer counseling at your pace, place and convenience. Check out www.knowledge-power.ca/cyber_services.php for more info!
One of the most important aspects of counselling is the counsellor/ client “fit.” Not everyone clicks with everyone…don’t let this be a reason for you to give up! No different than your doctor, vet or employer, you need to find the person you connect with, trust and respect. It’s okay not to like a person’s style and find the best person to help you! All counsellors have a different personality, belief system, and style….shop around! Even ask ahead of time some questions about their strategies, style or beliefs about your struggle…a good counsellor will talk with you and take time to answer these questions!
There is also the question of how many sessions one should go? Some people want to have a speedy experience, where the problem is solved in six sessions or less. If this is you, then you should look for a “solutions-focused therapist.” It is still important to keep in mind that you can’t expect that all problems can be solved in a short period of time, as some situations take longer to sort through. Meanwhile, other people can end up going to therapy for years, either because the situation has never been resolved, or because they like being able to come in for an hour each week to talk about life – either one is okay and you can decide what is best for you.
So…what is the first session like? Some therapists do a first session by getting an assessment of the current problem. Some will do history, relationship or background information gathering. Others will listen and let you guide the process, and still others will engage using metaphors or thought-provoking questions. It isn’t just a one-way relationship to be sure….you need to have an idea of what you would like to talk about, and what you would like to get out of therapy. Be sure to communicate that desire…you’re the boss and the therapy should meet your need! A counsellor’s job is to help guide people where they would like to go. As a trust and rapport builds, this sharing and reflection will become more natural.
The purpose of counselling is to build. Grow. Repair. Remake. Lift. Understand. Seek. Answer. Identify. Feel. Live. Smile. Listen. Be.
If you need or want any of those things….give it a try!