Helpful guide for people considering counselling

It can be an anxious time thinking about starting counselling and a difficult task to find a counsellor that it a good fit for you.  The idea for this blog is to help people considering counselling by providing a broad description of what counselling is, the different types of counselling and how it can help people. People often do not fully understand what counselling is, so I hope this might help some people by providing an explanation.

What is counselling?

Counselling is a form of “talking therapy” and can generally be considered a psychological therapy.  While there are different types of counselling therapies to suit different issues, or “presenting problems”, for many clients counselling can offer a safe and confidential space to talk about problems which they can’t discuss otherwise.  Many issues are difficult to discuss with family or friends for a variety of reasons, including embarrassment, fear of being judged, or due to fear of relying on friends or family, which can have a knock-on effect and impact on existing relationships. Counselling is removed from all of these issues as the counsellor is a neutral person in the client’s life, allowing a space for the client to explore their own thoughts with an independent, unbiased and impartial person. 

Counselling can be useful for anyone who wants to explore the way they are thinking or feeling further. It may also be helpful for anyone experiencing a problem or issue they are keen to resolve. For me, an important part of counselling is helping the client explore and see their issues in a different light.  This can help increase the client’s self-awareness and understanding of themselves.  

How can counselling help?

A common misconception about counselling is that counsellors can provide clients with advice and help them find a solution to their problems.  Contrary to this, counsellors do not give advice or have a toolbox or checklist of things to do to help clients feel better.  Counsellors do help clients gain a better insight and understanding of their own struggles and help provide them with the tools to overcome their problems on their own.  The goal of all counsellors is to help clients manage their problems independently.  

Clients differ drastically on how many sessions they need.  However, a single session is rarely enough to overcome client’s difficulties.  Regular sessions are usually required.  With my clients, I regularly review their progress and listen carefully to what the client thinks is helping and working and what they want to work on further.  This helps ensure that the counsellor and client are working together to achieve the same goal. This also shows the client what progress they have made so far.

Counselling aims to help the client better understand themselves and the way that they react to and interpret situations.  This can help them develop a clearer understanding of their problems.  The more armed with understanding and self-awareness, the better clients can understand themselves and navigate their way through any difficulties they face.  Eventually, clients can come out the other side and feel more positive about themselves and their own abilities.

Different types of counselling.

There are several distinct and different types of counselling therapies.  Which type of therapy best suits a client depends on their client’s individual issues.  For instance, clients who had a difficult childhood may wish to see a psychotherapy counsellor, as they focus more on how psychological difficulties often related to childhood experiences.  On the other hand, a client currently experiencing problems at work or in their personal life may wish to see a more humanistic counsellor, as they focus more on the here and now. 

I am a humanistic or person-centred counsellor, so I mainly focus on the client’s current problems in the here and now.  However, I also consider myself an integrative counsellor.  This means that I take elements of different types of counselling where appropriate depending on the client’s situation.  For instance, I sometimes explore a client’s childhood if they feel it is impacting their current problems.  I also often use art therapy methods to explore aspects of a client’s presenting problems, particularly if it is difficult for the client to verbally discuss their feelings.  This has been very successful at enabling clients to explore their difficulties a lot deeper.  

A good list of all the different types of counselling can be found here:

I hope this blog has helped people understand what counselling is and how it can help.


Image courtesy of the Practice Rooms in Bath.

Image courtesy of the Practice Rooms in Bath.

Using Photos to Helping Clients Cope with Bereavement

Throughout my years of working for Cruse Bereavement Care and other counselling agencies I have seen a lot of clients struggle with bereavement. The loss of a loved one can be so great it is sometimes hard to put it in words and we end up not knowing what to say. It’s a massive thing to lose someone, whether it is through suicide, natural causes, or sudden death, such as a stillborn birth.  Each person’s experience of bereavement is unique. Some clients, in particular, struggle to express how they feel and are unable to tell others how they feel because they don’t know themselves or are scared to open up. It is also very common for clients to get on with things and try and keep themselves busy even when they know that something isn’t right within them. I find these clients suffer more than most, but I will talk more about that in another blog. A way to get these clients talking about their loss is through using photographs. This allows a personal connection and engagement with the photos. The client will bring in photographs of the loved one, which allows them to talk about moments or memories shared with the loved one around when the photos were taken. I help the client explore their connection with the photos (and their loved one) by asking questions. Where was the photo was taken? Were they there at that moment? What was happening when the photo was taken? I also explore whether there were any photos that caught the client’s eye in particular and explore why that was.  These exploratory questions unlock what’s really happening within the client.  These questions all help the client process what is going on in the counselling room and what they are they feeling. I know from experience, this can open their feelings up and the client can finally talk about their loss with someone. Even if it’s just having a cry, they are allowing it flow out of them. Sometimes it’s like opening the flood gates. Perhaps they have never experienced these emotions before. More than likely they have experienced these emotions, but this experience might be the first time they’ve shared their grief with someone else. They may have hidden these emotions from the rest of their family.  In a sense, I am saying it’s ok to feel this way and it’s ok to cry. This enables the client to explore these feelings in a place where they feel safe. Having explored their feelings in the counselling room, they may be able to also explore the same feelings at home with a family member. I have also found that the photos the clients find difficult to look at become a lot easier to look at because they have already faced their pain.  Clients have reported that using the photograph method has really helped empower them to have the resources to cope with their loss.