What is counselling?

Published on 21 May 2023 at 18:37

Do you remember reading the children’s book – Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Hounds? It’s a famous children’s book featuring an alien – Dr Xargle.  In this book Dr Xargle studies dogs and attempts to teach alien children about what exactly they are. I wonder what Dr Xargle might have said about counselling, had he attempted to describe it. If he had peeped into the window of the counselling room during a session, he might simply see two people, having a conversation. Traditionally, that’s what counselling tends to look like. Of course – that’s not all it is.

When I’m asked what I think counselling is – I would say, at its most fundamental level – it is a relationship which exists between two people. Every counsellor, when asked, would likely have a different explanation for what they think counselling is – what it looks like, when it’s at its best. For me, the most crucial tenet of counselling is the relationship that exists between the client and I, and the nature of it.

There’s evidence to back this up as the most effective way to work. It’s been documented that the most effective factors for positive change in therapy were: 40% the client themselves; 30% the relationship between the client and the therapist; 15% the placebo effect [believing that therapy will help and thereby it helping] and 15% being a particular model or way of working: e.g. CBT.

70% of positive changes that happen within counselling can be attributed to the client themselves and the relationship they have with the therapist. [You can read more about this in The Heroic Client by Duncan, Miller and Sparks.]

In my opinion, the best counsellors – some of the ones whom have taught me, have counselled me personally and those who are colleagues, have a genuine interest in other people and are keen to understand more about how they – and their clients – are in the world. This is something that is important to me.

I endeavour to begin to understand my client’s experiences; to hypothetically, look out of their window. I aim to glimpse their lives, their experiences – with understanding, compassion and care.  This is why it is so important to listen carefully to both what the client does and doesn’t say to me in the therapy room; the best work is always client-led and client-focused. I know – and have experienced first-hand in my own therapy – the best route to collaborative change within therapy is the relationship I can have with my own counsellor and what that might be able to help me achieve for myself.

I endeavour to work collaborative with all of my clients – in a way that suits them. What do they want to achieve? What is important to them? What do they hope for, within therapy? What is helpful? What do they need from therapy that they cannot get anywhere else? After all – without a shared understanding of what the therapy is for – the therapist may end up having very different ideas from their client about what would actually be useful. The client is the expert. They know what they want. It’s not my role to tell them. My duty is not to ‘do’ therapy to my clients, but to be with them. That’s what I offer. If you would like to arrange a counselling session, please do contact me directly.

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