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European Association for Counselling

What is expected from a counselling session?

 

counselling session

 

Most people at some time in their lives will take on the role of a Mental Health Counsellor. A friend may ask for advice. This can cover relationships; breakups or bullying. Even the loss of loved ones. In fact just about every subject a professional counsellor would cover.

There is a difference in asking a friend for understanding or advice. Rather than asking the help of a Professional Counsellor. It is not just the specialist training of the professional. More importantly, it is their successful ability to not get emotionally involved.
A counsellor in their professional development draws on a vast range of counselling resources. Resources, that create the correct conditions to help the client.
This article provides an attempt to define the concept of counselling outcomes. Together with the role played by the counsellor.

Successful Mental Health Counselling demands commitment. It is such a broad term because of its diversities. Counselling can mean different things to any individual.

Perhaps turning to the Oxford Dictionary will provide a good definition. `The provision of professional help and guidance in resolving personal or psychological problems.`

Still quite vague content for defining mental health and clinical practice. What about one of the professional counselling bodies how do they define it? The European Association for Counselling has a definition that reads. `Counselling is an interactive learning process contracted between counsellor and client. Be they individuals, families, groups or institutions. Approaching in a holistic way, social, cultural, economic and/or emotional issues.`

As you can see this is a two-way contract between the professional and the client on an equal basis. It is not like going to the doctors expecting an analysis of your condition. Followed by a recommendation how to put it right.

The whole basis of a counselling session is to help the enquirer see things more clearly. Possibly from a different point of view.

Why is this the concept of counselling?

It is the role of the counsellor, although situated in a clinical practice, to create an environment of trust and confidence. To help the client to focus on their feelings and or experiences to facilitate a positive change in their behaviour or expectation.

The most important experience a person must have is confidentiality. A good professional will explain their policy covering confidentiality. What is said in the therapy room stays in the therapy room?
Is there a time this may not be the case?
A counsellor during research, training and professional development gain knowledge of a range of therapies. They cannot specialise in every one. In explaining information about the business when covering confidentiality the counsellor may explain that they could need to refer the client on to another therapist. This would be only after discussing, why, with the client and agreeing with them that it is in their best interest to do so. Such an action would only be carried out if they give their express permission to be referred.

There is another situation where the general rule of confidentiality may be considered inappropriate. The counsellor may be required by law to disclose information if they think that there is a risk to life.

These explanations are given to strengthen the bonds of trust and confidentiality. At all times full disclosure is given. The client is encouraged to express their feelings about any action before it is taken.

What a counsellor should not do?

They do not give advice by drawing on their experience of how they reacted to a situation like that of the client.

A good counsellor will never be judgemental no matter what factors the client reveals. They will never encourage them to behave in a way another client may have behaved when faced a similar situation. Unlike when talking to a friend or a relative a counsellor will never get emotionally involved. The counsellor will never look at the situation from their own perspective. They will have empathy and this will be expressed by encouraging the client to talk openly and frankly about their feelings and emotions.

By providing privacy in a safe and regular space where a person can feel at ease and under no pressure is vital. They can relax and talk about their thoughts and feelings. The counsellor is there to explore by listening, giving support and respecting their views.
Counselling and Psychotherapy

There is sometimes much confusion in the public domain over the difference between counselling and psychotherapy. They are terms used for much the same process.
Both give emotional support. Both deal with clients who have issues and difficulties. These can be emotional and stressful. Both help them towards a positive change.

The key difference between the two courses of therapeutic communication treatment lies in the explanation of theoretical approaches. Also, the recommended time required to see benefits.
Counselling usually builds relationships and refers to a brief treatment. It centres around behaviour patterns. Psychotherapy focuses on working with clients for a longer-term. It draws from insight into emotional problems and difficulties as a model of therapy.

Counselling highlights the emotional and intellectual experience. How a client is feeling and what they think about the problem they have sought help for.
The psychotherapy session encourages a person to go back to their earlier experiences. To explore how these impact on their current problem.

A counsellor is less likely to refer to past experiences. Being generally trained in a humanistic approach using client-centred therapy.
So what is the role of the counsellor as opposed to that of the psychotherapist?
The counsellor will tell you that no two people are alike. The general public does not understand the same language in the same way.

This is where the counsellor demonstrates their characteristics of effective empathy. They must take extreme care.
When we hold a conversation and we hear a statement we go into our memory cells. Looking to see if the words we are hearing have a relationship with any of our past experiences. For example, if I say pencil, what do you think of?

Do you look into your past experience of a pencil and see a piece of lead surrounded by wood?
Possibly with a rubber eraser at one end? Or do you see a very expensive propelling pencil? One manufactured in gold which could demonstrate success in your mind?

I am always reminded of the story when the first men went into space. They all had a problem. They had to complete detailed information sheets. They had to be completed when the Astronaut was the right way up. Upside down or slowly spinning on their own axis. NASA scientists realised that pens could not function in space. They could not defeat gravity. They needed to figure out another way for the astronauts to write things down. So they spent years and millions of taxpayer dollars to develop a pen. One that could put ink to paper without considering gravity. But their crafty Soviet counterparts, so the story goes, handed their cosmonauts pencils.
It may be a myth or false news in today’s jargon but it illustrates the point how even when faced with identical situations propel can take different directions based on their own past experience.
It does illustrate how two minds can go in different directions. Even when confronted by the same words. Based on their own experience.
A counsellor needs to ensure that they talk the same language. But, also that they have the same understanding and outcome.

Getting back to what a counsellor sets out to do when confronted by a difficult set of circumstances. One that has brought the client to seek help. First, a counsellor must have management skills. Skills to establish a friendly comfortable and secure environment. Enabling the client to feel able to talk openly and freely.

This type of open discourse is highly unlikely when talking to friends and family. They will be emotionally involved with the situation. They may also be biased because of the deep knowledge of the shared social circle and background. That conversation can actually be detrimental rather than constructive.

Having established that a professional counsellor will not be or become emotionally involved. They can only work with the facts as presented to them. They can be non-judgemental and will not offer advice during their counselling sessions.

The client is encouraged to express some of their most difficult feelings. Such as resentment; anger; guilt and fear in a confidential and non-threatening environment.

In the session, the counsellor will encourage the client to talk. To examine parts of their life that they have found difficult or impossible to face before. This may even take the conversation to examine their relationships. This is to try to help them discover why they react to situations in the way they do.

This is often followed by considering ways in which the client may change such behaviours without stress.

Professional Counselling reduces confusion. It allows the client to make effective decisions. Decisions that lead to positive changes in behaviour.

Professional Counselling is not based on giving advice. It is not related to the existing situation as if the counsellor were the client. The ultimate aim of counselling is to enable them to make their own choices. Reach their own decisions to enable them to act on these new found feelings for their own benefit.

Through their years of training, the therapist has developed many counselling attributes such as communication skills. From Active Listening to effective questioning.
The counsellor will build a therapeutic alliance.
The counsellor will attempt to build a certain amount of rapport. But, not to an extent that would allow them to become emotionally involved. It is how the client and a therapist connect, behave, and engage with each other. It is the bond that develops in the therapy room.

Today, the therapeutic alliance is seen as one of the main tools. One that achieves a positive change in the lives of clients. The ability to develop a good therapeutic relationship with clients is focussed on in their training. It is an essential professional skill.

Counsellors need to see things from the other person’s viewpoint. Rather than feeling sorry for them. Empathy can help the counsellor ask appropriate questions. Designed to lead the client to positive conclusions.