European Association for Counselling

What is Counselling

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Over the last ten or so years the number of people suffering mental health problems has been fairly stable.

In Europe some 83 million people, do experience some mental health problems every year

The problem is still the perceived attitude to the diagnosis of a mental health problem. People are coming to terms that the pressures of everyday living can have a major impact on their well-being.

Treating mental health conditions

It is important that a general practitioner is able to recognise and recommend the correct treatment.

Basically mental health problems are split into two categories -Neurotic and Psychotic.

Neurotic problems include depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whereas around 1% of the population will suffer from psychotic disorders. Such as poor perception of reality which interferes with a clients thoughts and judgements. This includes Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Many theories are put forward on the causes of mental illness in its various forms. These include genetic links, environmental links and life events from an early age.

There are many people who because of abnormalities in their genes are susceptible to problems in their life. But never develop any form of mental disability.

In a recent statement from the charity MIND, they said that many factors lead to mental illness. These could be from child abuse, negligence or loneliness. The bereavement of a family member, long-term sustained stress. Even long-term unemployment or poor housing conditions.

Unfortunately diagnosing mental health problems is not as simple as taking a blood test. Friends, family and medical practitioners can notice a change in the pattern of behaviour in an individual. It could be over perhaps a long period. Then it takes a highly skilled specialist to confirm that there is a problem. The person is suffering from either a neurotic or psychotic disorder.

Even specialists, may have to refer to information in the ‘WHO’ “International Classification of Diseases”. So they can accurately diagnose which type of disorder needs dealing with.

With depression or anxiety, the family doctor may be able to diagnose and recommend treatment. The patient is usually referred to therapy conducted by a highly skilled registered counsellor.

Known as the talking therapies service. An individual can talk about their thoughts and feelings, while relaxing in a secure and comfortable environment. This is without the thought that they are being judged or manipulated in what is an emotional time of their life.

Although known as the talking therapy, it is the client that should talk the most. A counsellor is trained to actively listen with empathy. They maintain a quiet but purposeful environment of encouragement.

What is Counselling Used For?

One of the most popular and successful therapies is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT is a form of counselling, designed to treat depression, but is now used for some mental disorders. Current problems are solved by changing unhelpful thinking. The name refers to therapy based on a combination of basic behavioural and cognitive principles.

Some thoughts and feelings cannot be controlled by rational thought. Because they come from environmental prior conditioning and other external and internal motivations.
CBT is “problem focusedâ€. That is looking at specific problems. Whereas the client is asked to select specific strategies to help address those problems. This involves action orientated therapy. The psychoanalytic approach would look for unconscious meaning behind the clients thoughts and feelings. Then using this base to diagnose the client. The relationship between a feared stimulus and an avoidance response can cause disorders such as depression. This results in a conditioned fear. The two theories combined create what is now known as cognitive behavioural therapy.

CBT is effective for a variety of conditions. These include mood, anxiety, bereavement & grief counselling. As well as personality disorders, eating, addiction, dependence and psychotic disorders and relationship counselling. Many CBT treatment programmes have been evaluated for symptom-based diagnoses. Having been favoured over approaches such as psychodynamic treatments. Use of the term CBT may refer to different interventions, including “self-instructions”. Also relaxation and/or biofeedback and development of adaptive coping strategies. Changing maladaptive beliefs about emotional pain, and goal settingâ€. Treatment is sometimes given, with brief, direct and time-limited treatments for individual psychological disorders.

There are many other types of therapy, brief details can be found here on the website.

Besides depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, the main conditions where counselling is effective is:-

  • Post-Traumatic Stress
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Addictions such as drug misuse.
  • Couples and relationships
  • And some long-term illnesses.

How can counselling help

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

Seldom will a professional counsellor give advice. The client, through talking, can gain insights into their own problems.

Counselling can help the client:
Cope with redundancy and other work related stress. It can help those who have suffered bereavement or other factors that can cause depression or anxiety in the life of a person. Counselling can be used to help a person achieve their ambitions or just to help them understand themselves better. It can help the client to feel more confident in their lives. Perhaps start seeing life from another point of view instead of being confrontational.

By seeking help from a professional therapist, a client will find they can talk about difficult situations. This helps them to face up to their situations from a better perspective. It is also true that in these situations the client may feel worse as they start their programme with the therapist. Counselling is not a magic pill. It will take a number of sessions, how many depends on the support that is needed. One thing is certain no professional counsellor will draw out a programme just to keep a client returning to their office.

What to expect from a counselling session

Counselling does need a commitment from the client to attend therapy to make the best use of the programme. Treatment is seldom a one-off visit it can take, weeks, months or even years of therapy to achieve what the client wants to achieve. A professional counsellor will never become a friend. They will maintain their professional distance so that they can remain objective. The counsellor will always care for the client showing empathy and understanding. But they will never give judgement or allow their own experience of situations colour their judgement. They will build a two-way trusting and professional relationship with their clients.

Where treatment involves children and young people the counsellor needs specialist skills and training. It is vital to make sure that the counsellor is registered to help this group. The professional counsellor will have information available for a client to check. This should have qualifications to treat mental health conditions in children and young people.

From time-to-time a counsellor may ask permission to talk with a colleague , on a confidential basis, . This will only occur if they feel that a colleague can have a positive impact on the recommended programme. There may also be occasions when they will ask the permission of the client if they can refer them to another counsellor. This could be either in the same centre or elsewhere. Again, this will only be if the counsellor believes the new counsellor will have a positive impact. Yet, at the end of the day, the client will choose and decide the course of action they will follow. A client can have total assurance of the confidentiality in all their appointments. If a client ever thought confidentiality had been broken, a counsellor can be subject to disciplinary action.

It is advisable to ask the counsellor at the outset what professional qualifications they have. What training have they done. How long have they been helping people as a fully qualified professional counsellor. At the outset, the counsellor will explain how they conduct therapeutic sessions. They also tell the client of their rights to continue treatment. Even if they wish to complain about their treatment giving them someone who they can contact other than the counsellor. Most counsellors belong to a professional counselling organisation. This will be pointed out in the first appointment a client has with the counsellor.

A professional counsellor will always without exception focus of the needs of the client. They never judge or criticise and continually seek to improve the well-being of a client. The need to build a trusting and safe relationship is paramount if counselling is to help a client with the problems they face.

Author David Dutch

Author David Dutch