COUNSELLING FOR ADULTS
The overall aim of counselling is to provide an opportunity for you to work towards living in a way that you experience as more satisfying and resourceful. It’s a way of helping you to express your thoughts and feelings, clarify your situation and come to terms with new experiences. It helps to see difficulties more objectively and with less anxiety. The relationship between us is equal, taking place in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. I won’t tell you what to do, advise or pass judgement. I hope to create a safe atmosphere to help explore issues that are important to you. Of course there are times when it doesn’t work miracles. It’s like most things in life, you get out of it what you put in.
So what type of problems do people come with? Instead of providing you with a long list, it’s probably more helpful to say that anything that consistently troubles you emotionally will be suitable material to work with. In general, anxiety, depression, low self esteem and relationship problems are quite high on the list, but the list is endless. And please don’t feel as though you have to be feeling OK to come to a session – counsellors are used to working with distressed and anxious people, who are understandably nervous of talking to a stranger. A common symptom of feeling mentally unwell is that you feel you’re going mad and you may be putting off taking action for fear that someone might diagnose something dreadful! That just won’t happen with counselling and you may find that once the initial hurdle is over, your anxiety will begin to subside. Of course you may sometimes feel worse after a session, especially if you’ve been going over some really deep issues, but this is normal and should improve in time.
Another common worry about counselling is that you will almost be forced to divulge your innermost thoughts and secrets – they may even gush out uncontrollably against your will! This doesn’t happen either. You are completely in control of what you reveal – you choose what you tell the counsellor. It goes without saying that the more honest and open you are, the quicker you’ll reap the benefits but if you have a very troubled past and are anxious about going over old memories, remember that you can choose to take your time and only go as far as you can at that point in time. Your counsellor should not put you under any undue pressure. There’s a theory that your mind will only allow as much as you can handle to be released at a particular stage in the process, so don’t worry, you’ll be safe. And sometimes the past doesn’t have to be revisited – the present is all that really matters and progress can be made without uncovering old wounds. And of course everything shared is completely confidential (subject to a few ground rules).
Choosing a counsellor can be a confusing and worrying task, especially if you’re not feeling on top form. If you’re unsure, my suggestion would be to ring around a few and get a feel for how they work and what type of person they are. You are the customer and have to be satisfied that your money is well spent! I am happy for you to ring me to ‘sound me out’. You can also decide at the end of your first session whether you feel comfortable about working with me and wish to continue. There is no obligation to carry on. And the number of sessions is flexible, depending upon your needs, you don’t have to have a certain number.
COUNSELLING FOR CHILDREN
It’s probably quite obvious that children cannot be counselled in the same way as adults. If a counsellor just sat and talked with a child it’s unlikely they would be able to talk about their thoughts and feelings and it would prove a pretty useless exercise. Because of this a counsellor needs to use counselling skills alongside other helpful strategies such as play, art, stories etc. The counsellor needs to provide the environment in which therapeutic change is possible and this process is critically dependent on the relationship between child and counsellor.
I work in an integrative way, tailoring each therapeutic package to fit the needs of the child. Before working with a child I will have one session with a parent or guardian to gain some history about the child and their current difficulties. I complete some paperwork to enable me to evaluate the work when the therapy has finished. Consent must be obtained from a parent/guardian before any work can commence. On meeting the child I explain who I am and why we have been introduced and carry out an easy self-assessment with them in order to reach a joint understanding of where they see themselves at that point in time. Bearing in mind all the information gathered, I then decide what the therapeutic outcome will be. Examples of outcomes are:
- To improve self esteem
- To manage anger more effectively
- To help cope with bereavement
This outcome may not entirely match the goals of the child or the parent but is more likely to be a potentially realistic achievement. With each of the children I work with I aim to incorporate stress management techniques, improve self esteem and relationships and work on emotional intelligence. I use art (eg. paint, collage), creative media (eg. clay, sand), games, play, sensory materials, guided visualisations and a good dose of humour to achieve this. The number of sessions required differs according to the child’s needs.
The single most important part of therapeutic work is the therapist’s relationship with the child. Unless an honest, trusting relationship is formed, change may prove difficult. To trust someone can be very difficult for some of the children that I see. All work is carried out on a one to one basis and the aim of the relationship is to provide a warm, genuine, trusting space with firm boundaries in which the child can truly be themselves. Bad behaviour is not tolerated, but rarely occurs. Children can be nervous at first but quickly respond to the non-clinical atmosphere and the realisation that change is possible and there is hope. At the end of the therapeutic work the self assessment is repeated with the child and another session (free of charge) is held with the parent/ guardian. This enables a full evaluation of the work to be carried out and is extremely important as a measure of progress. Of course, therapy is no magic wand and sometimes progress can be slow. This is usually connected with how willing the child is to engage in the process.