The unexpected value of counselling

By 5th March 2016Blog, Featured, Uncategorized

A client’s thoughts about how she felt in the period leading up to entering counselling and the value she has derived from being in therapy.

I have chosen to write this blog voluntarily and I give my assurance that it is an honest review of my experience. My identity must remain anonymous, though, as the content refers to members of my family whose privacy I wish to respect.

I am a woman who has been used to standing on my own two feet; of course I talked about various problems with friends – even occasionally with my family – but I would never have considered approaching a counsellor or therapist.  I would have felt it was an admission of weakness. I believed that, as a reasonably intelligent and educated person, I ought to be able to resolve my own problems, give or take the occasional need for specialist financial, legal or technical advice.

When I had emotional difficulties, for instance with the death of family members, with bullying in my younger years, or when I learned that I had an incurable condition which might impair my life, I felt that it was my job to just “get on and deal with it”.  I could not see that discussing these personal matters with a therapist would achieve anything, as no-one else can live your life for you.  I soldiered on during the difficult periods, through sleepless nights and pessimistic days. I mostly relied on reminding myself that, however bad I felt, there were many others who faced far greater loss or pain or difficulty, and that I shouldn’t complain.  Quite often I turned inwards, blaming myself in some way, or ‘motivating’ myself out of the doldrums by telling myself that I had made my own bed, and now I should lie in it.  If I found it uncomfortable, then it was up to me to change either the notional bed or myself.

I still believe that there is a great deal to be achieved with a positive personal attitude, and a lot to be lost by ‘giving in too easily’.  However, finding that positive attitude on one’s own is not always easy – as I learned (quite late in life) it is worth getting help.  As a result, I have changed my mind completely about the value of discussing difficulties with a professional counsellor – something I would never have previously contemplated.

My view changed a few years ago, when I was hit by several ‘issues’ all at the same time. These included redundancy (after a long and reasonably successful career), the ending of a very long-term personal relationship, a flare-up of my medical condition, and the estrangement of most of my (admittedly small) family.  Two friends, whose opinion I valued, both recommended that I see a therapist; a third (and now former) friend told me to pull myself together and find a job.  Ironically, that would have been my own previous attitude. I am so glad that I instead took the advice to visit a counsellor.  Even so, I approached the initial consultation in a largely sceptical frame of mind.  I did not really see how giving to a complete stranger a potted history of the events leading up to my distressed condition would help me regain some equilibrium, let alone purpose in my life.

That ‘complete stranger’ listened more attentively than I had ever experienced from anyone.  He made it clear at an early stage that he would not provide answers or solutions to my problems, which was my initial pragmatic approach.  With my innate sense of thrift I wanted ‘value for money’ – I wanted direct advice as to what I should do and how to set about it. Instead, through careful listening, reflection, and discussion, I was encouraged to find my own solutions.  This was greatly helped by the realisation that I could talk about anything, no matter how potentially embarrassing or negative about myself, and I would not be judged, laughed at or criticised. It was a far cry from my previous life in the critical, competitive, commercial world. And it was far from the failed discussions with family and supposed friends, who had no understanding for what was troubling me, and had no patience with me.  Perhaps the biggest single thing which the counsellor gave me was the courage to hold the view that my opinion counted, and that my need for calm and satisfaction in life was just as valid as anyone else’s.  He taught me that I did not have to sacrifice myself, or surrender everything I had, in order to appease those who were opposed to what I felt I needed to do.

Sure enough, there were difficult decisions to be made, and my anguish at the pain caused to others, and to myself, did not vanish overnight.  But, talking through my needs and desires with an engaged and empathetic counsellor undoubtedly helped me to keep a clear mind; I was able to retain a sense of my own value, such that I came through that dark period.

Happily, I am now in a bright and positive situation, but I would not hesitate to consult a professional therapist, were the emotional storm-clouds to roll in again.