Counselling and Psychotherapy

What is Counselling and Psychotherapy?

The talking therapies, as they are now called, are increasingly gaining universal recognition, and as 1 in 5 of us have now sought out counselling or psychotherapy, the stigma attached to seeking this kind of help is clearly diminishing. A marker of this is a recent government initiative entitled 'Improved Access to Psychological Therapy' (IAPT) which is being launched countrywide so as to make different kinds of therapy available to a greater number of people.

What is the origin of Counselling and Psychotherapy?

Although working with unconscious processes has a long and interesting history, the talking cure is said to have begun with Sigmund Freud in Vienna in the late 19th century. Simply put, patients were encouraged to communicate what came to mind. By virtue of the analyst listening in a particularly attentive way, associations were likely to emerge. This method often gave doctor and patient an insight into the forgotten, repressed, or unconscious causes of their distress. In other words, the quality of the analyst's silence created an environment in which his patients' hitherto unconscious thoughts, feelings or memories might emerge and add substance to their more conscious concerns.

What is involved?

Nowadays, the basic process of the client speaking and the therapist listening is essentially the same. A good counsellor or psychotherapist will provide their clients with a safe, contained, and confidential space. There will ideally be freedom from distraction, giving the client the time and space to speak about his or her concerns.

What is the difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy?

Generally speaking, counselling emerged from environments in which there was a need for pastoral care, such as education, social work, hospitals, prisons and churches. Counselling training is usually less intensive, and the process itself is often shorter and more straightforward than psychotherapy.

Fixing or healing?

More goal-oriented clients tend to choose a short-term contract in order to address a specific issue, and in these cases, counselling is likely to focus on problem solving. Where the client's presenting problems are relational, the work is likely to take longer, particularly as patterns of relating are usually set within our families of origin, and take longer to untangle.

Either way, the success or failure of the work will depend to a very large extent on the relationship between therapist and client. This, more than anything else, has been found to be the main determinant of a successful outcome.

What makes us seek Therapy?

In general, we seek therapy when, as a result of being unable to resolve or recover from an emotional problem, we are left with an abiding sense of personal failure. This may, for instance, relate to a bereavement, or other loss, relationship difficulties or divorce. We may also be suffering from recurring ill-health, anger, low self-esteem, anxiety or depression.

Who can Counselling and Psychotherapy help?

While counselling and psychotherapy can in principle help anyone with any difficulty that can be communicated, it is important for prospective clients to be willing to commit to the process – however brief that commitment may be.

Most people new to it find that they are truly listened to and understood for the first time in their life, in an atmosphere which is open, empathic and non-judgemental. Being heard in this way often makes it possible for clients to find their own answers, and with that, their own voices.

While the initial encounter with a therapist can be distressing and anxiety provoking, the process itself can be affirming, healing, and sometimes surprising.