Seeking professional counsel is not taboo. It just enables you to make considered choices about bottlenecks in your life…
My last column generated a lot of mail. Many of my readers, and not just professional counsellors I might add, wrote in to tell me that it did make things a little clearer in their minds. Some of the responses, however, were not as affirmative. I was advised to not mystify the counselling process, that counsellors were not really necessary and that there was little that a counsellor could tell them that they didn't already know. In fact, one of my readers recommended that I should ‘get a grip on myself and live and let live'. Also, there were several who wanted to understand what actually the counselling process was all about. Since I believe that my grip on myself is reasonably satisfactory, I would like to use this space to ‘demystify' the counselling process and explore what actually happens when you do finally decide to meet a counsellor. Here goes...
First off, most people seek counselling to help them deal with some road-blocks or bottlenecks they experience in their personal lives. There may not necessarily be any deep-seated psychological trauma or any overwhelming incidents in their lives, or the presence of any diagnosable mental disorder. In other words, most people who look for counsellors are as normal as you or I (of course, I'm assuming that you and I are ‘normal'). Counselling may be sought to help resolve some worrisome individual internal conflict or issues in relationships. Regardless of the reasons you decide to see a counsellor, there are some things you are perfectly justified in expecting. The most fundamental of these is that you do not expect your counsellor to ‘advise' you on anything. You have already received enough advice from family and friends and are probably sick of it by now. The counsellor's primary responsibility is to help you understand what's happening in the unconscious part of your mind. With the insights that your counsellor helps you obtain, through a non-judgemental ‘therapeutic relationship', you can make some considered choices about how to deal with your bottlenecks. The counsellor is a facilitator, an interpreter, a resource person who has an understanding of how minds work. The counsellor is not a ‘ professional elder' who ‘advises' you to ‘adjust' to whatever you're struggling to deal with.
The next thing you can expect from your counsellor is complete confidentiality. This is an integral part of the counselling process and whatever you reveal to the counsellor will be between you and your counsellor alone. We, as a nation, are not too hot on confidentiality, and it is not uncommon for concerned family members to call or meet the counsellor to ask what their loved one ‘revealed' to the counsellor. Good counsellors will politely decline to respond to such requests, even though the concern may be legitimate and come from a good place. It's entirely up to the individual whether or not to share the contents of the counselling process with family members.
Typically, counselling interventions take some time (between a few weeks and a few months), and usually, each session will last about an hour or a little less. Counsellors use several techniques to help you obtain insights and to overcome your resistance to counselling. Many of these may not be readily apparent to you and most counselling sessions may make you feel that you're just having a chat with someone who seems interested. If this happens, take it from me, the counselling is going well.
As much as you expect your counsellor to approach you and your issues professionally, you too need to do the same. Your counsellor will expect complete honesty from you. Remember this is in your best interest, for, your counsellor's interpretations depend largely on what you tell them. They are not magicians, even if they sometimes appear to be. Also you need to put in effort to facilitate the process. In other words, counselling is not like a medical consultation where a prescription is going to take care of an illness. It's your mind and your life, and you have to work to make things better. Tell the counsellor everything that's on your mind, however trivial it may sound. Let the counsellor separate the wheat from the chaff. Don't expect the counsellor to give you solutions. The solutions are within you. You can access them when, during the counselling process, you have empowered yourself to do so, by understanding what exactly is happening in your mind. Don't expect your counsellor to make decisions on your behalf. Your decisions have to be your own; the counsellor can only help you by framing your options clearly and giving you insights into the decision-making process. Don't expect to see visible changes at the end of each session. This will simply not happen. Counselling is an involved process and gains are usually incremental.
And finally, don't drop out half way through the process, just because the going is getting a bit rough or a few raw spots have been hit, for, these have to be dealt with before you move on. Keep the faith and stick with it; believe me, you'll be much the better for it.
The writer is the author of The Fifty-50 Marriage: Return to Intimacy and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org