I know that many of the people I work with have concerns about what other people would think if they knew that they were seeing a counsellor. Some people prefer to say that are using a coach. I understand why they would wish to do that and I have no issues with it - because it is true.
Whilst I was training to be a counsellor, and as an NLP Practitioner, I was also training to be a coach with the UK’s leading coach training organisation - The Coaching Academy. The training involved hundreds of hours of peer and assessed coaching, several residential weekends and tens of thousands of words of written work. The training lasted 18 months and I passed with a distinction.
I have no doubt in my own mind that my training as a coach significantly enhances my abilities as a counsellor and vice-versa and both help me to be more useful to the people I work with, both as a coach and as a counsellor.
Is it true that counselling is about the past and coaching about the future?
There is a popular misunderstanding that counselling is exclusively concerned with things that have happened in the past whereas coaching is exclusively about the future. This is far from the truth.
What is common to both is a desire on the part of someone to change things for themselves and you can be much better at that if you have an understanding of how you think, what you feel, what you believe about yourself and about the world, and what influences and motivates you.
This doesn’t mean that as a coaching client or a counselling client that you have to revisit or even think about earlier formative experiences but becoming more self-aware, more aware of what influences you and knowing how your brain works can certainly make achieving your goals much easier.
Whether you like to see yourself as coaching or a counselling client, it’s changing what you believe about yourself that's important because it's changing what you believe about yourself that helps you change what you feel and are able to do in the future.
Since I’ve been working in private practice I’ve had the privilege to work with people from the ages of 14 to 94; from multi-millionaires to people who have had barely enough money to survive and what’s been common to all of them is that they have all wanted something to be different, they have all decided to take control of their lives and do what's right for them.
Coaching or counselling? They're both about personal change. It's the same brain with the same mechanisms for forming and changing beliefs, the same mechanisms for establishing and breaking behavioural and thought habits.
So you're looking for a coach? I don't know if it's overwhelmingly important to you what other people think about you, or if you're sufficiently self-accepting to do what you feel is right for you regardless of the opinions of others. You decide.
Counselling is a joint and active experience for both you and your counsellor
If you google “What is counselling” you’ll get thousands of different explanations but it seems to me that not many of them will give you a true feel for the process, the experience.
Counselling explanations will talk about empathy, about being non-judgmental and accepting and genuine and it’s all very, very true but what does it tell you about a counselling session? What’s it like?
In one way it’s like a couple of people working on a car engine that’s not working at its best. They’re sharing thoughts and ideas about what’s going wrong, each of them asking: Did you notice that? Could this be important? Maybe it could be useful to think about that? Do you see how this seems to be related to that?
Maybe I know a bit more than you about the sort of things that can go wrong with engines but I don’t know exactly how your engine works. It’s yours and they have different strengths and histories and work in different ways, but maybe I can help you to discover things about yours that you weren’t aware of.
Whilst we’re working on this together, you might take the opportunity to express your anger or your frustration or your despair, or you might even find the opportunity to laugh about some of the things that you have already tried or done to fix things. You’ll feel better for it and at some point you might possibly begin to see a way forward that will help you to clarify the outcomes that you’re looking for and move you towards them
Maybe those two people are not looking to fix a problem but rather wanting to improve the performance so it can be the engine that one of them wants. Perhaps the first thing to be clear about is what you’re trying to achieve, what is it that you want and why do you want it? Could you get the same satisfaction, contentment or happiness in another way that might be easier or better for you?
So counselling is an active process. You don’t just sit there waiting for somebody else to tell you what your answers are. It’s a guided exploration but one where you have and hold the responsibility and the power to decide. Along the way we might share thoughts about strategies that you can use to deal with anxiety, anger, grief or other feelings and emotions. Maybe I can help you to find some insight but neither I nor any counsellor can tell you what to do. You decide.
Often you don't need to decide anything, just to talk about things and try to make sense of them, or let go of some stuff and that can be enough. That's okay too, whatever brings you peace.
- to feel disgust or embarrassment and often to show this feeling by a movement of your face or body
I have here a free bucket of cringes which I'd like to offer you. You can have it now.
I have been collecting the cringes in this bucket for decades and I can tell you that there are some quality cringes here for you to take.
The collection contains minor cringes such as "It'd been better if I hadn't said/done that" through medium cringes such as "That was a really stupid thing for me to have done/said, What on earth will they think of me now!" and continues into Hold your head in yours hands and shake it from side to side saying "No, no, no" level cringes. It also contains some "I hope nobody ever finds out what I've done" whole body shake cringes and beyond.
Each cringe has been routinely and painstakingly examined and re-examined many times so as to make sure that it maintains its strength and emotional impact.
The cringes are contained in a convenient virtual red bucket that I used to be able to carry around with me but there are now so many cringes that the bucket is overflowing and can't be seen. It looks like Mount Vesuvius.
I am getting rid of them because I just don't have the time to give them the attention they require. I did my best but there are now just too many of them to keep up with so I am letting go of them.
I know that you will have your own bucket of cringes so I am not optimistic that you will want mine as well but please could you consider my offer? If you'd like to have them then please email me and I will send them to you.
In anticipation of you declining my offer I have set up a Cringe Reprocessing Facility at www.cringedump.com Do please visit the site and consider submitting your cringes for processing. The service is free, anonymous and completely confidential. There is no marketing and you do not have to subscribe to anything or receive any emails. Your cringes are never seen by human eye.
Each and every cringe that you submit is processed and is turned into fertilizer for a woodland lake. The Cringe Dump makes it clear that it does not accept any liability for any good feelings that you begin to have once you have submitted any cringes that you'd like to let go of.
If you don't want to visit the site then you can just email as many cringes as you like to email@example.com and they will be automatically processed. You'll receive just one email confirming your submissions and you can email The Cringe Dump as often as you like. Some major cringes may require a second submission but I understand that the Neurobiologic Technologies© used make this very rare.
Go for it. Now.
I don't know if you ever been to Anglesey but if you have done so you've probably been to or know about the South Stack lighthouse near Holyhead. Just about a mile away there is a prehistoric site called Ty Mawr Hut Circles where you'll find the foundations of some 20 or so stone round houses which are 4,000 years old.
When I visit and I stand near to the huts looking out to sea I wonder what the residents of those huts felt as they looked out at that vast expanse of what must have seemed to them to be a never ending ocean. Was this their edge of the world?
The sea cliffs near the huts seem almost vertical and probably 150 feet high. Running along the top of the cliffs is a narrow concrete path and the seaward side of the path is so close to the edge of the cliff that you can bend your head sideways and look straight down 150 feet. Every few feet there is a vertical piece of scaffold pipe with horizontal scaffold joining the vertical pipes together. There's no netting or any other protection between the scaffold pipes so it would be easy if you were not mindful to go over the edge particularly when you consider the strong and blustery winds that the area experiences.
Now, as you might have guessed, I've been there a few times because I find the experience of connecting with those long gone ancestors moving and meaningful.
I wouldn't consider myself to be a be overanxious but each time I approach that path I become aware of a feeling of anxiety growing in me. It's interesting to notice this and how I respond to it. As you might imagine I find myself paying mindful attention to all the potentially dangerous aspects of that experience. Does the path look firm? Is the scaffolding pipe clean and rust-free and does it seem to be firmly embedded in the concrete of the path? What are the wind conditions like, are they blustery and changeable or calm and predictable?
As I consider these different aspects I begin to feel the anxiety diminishing but you know it never leaves me completely and I do not want it to. That anxiety is my friend and it is looking after me. It's on alert, mindful of potential dangers and I respect it and I am listening to it. It leaves me to enjoy that moving experience but it stands next to me like an obedient guard dog ready to alert me if needs be.
I know that if I didn't listen to it that it would still be there and it would find other ways to command my attention, to keep me safe, perhaps by giving me a panic attack grabbing me by the cuff with it's teeth and dragging me away to safety regardless of what I thought I wanted.
High anxiety states are not comfortable experiences, far from it, so I am not suggesting that we should welcome all anxiety with open arms. What I do believe is that we should listen to it because it is there for a purpose. Those of our ancestors who didn't experience anxiety or didn't listen to it aren't here anymore - they've all been eaten or fallen off the edge of cliffs.
Anxiety is like the warning light in a car, those lights are directing our attention to matters that might be of concern to us, that we might wish to pay attention to. They're not saying that there is a problem, just that there might be potential for one.
You'll know that when a warning light comes on in your car it's quite possible that the problem is with your warning light and not with your car and you may need to reset the warning systems. In the same way anxiety can sometimes become a habitual response, it can get out of kilter and then it may need a reset too, but just maybe it's trying to tell you something that you need to know.
I met with a good friend a month or so ago and something he said to me made me think.
Although he had spoken about it only occasionally, I knew that he had had a very difficult relationship with one of his parents, a parent who had been highly critical of him for a long time; for decades.
Now I know from the work that I do and from my own experience that the messages that we hear, or think that we hear, from our parents and other significant people in the early years of our lives can have a profound and long-lasting impact on how we see ourselves and what we believe, on what we think we deserve and on what we think we can achieve.
Yet here was my happy friend with a lovely wife and children, building his second business, full of optimism and hope for the future.
I wondered how he had managed to disregard or overcome the messages he had had from that parent. I thought I might get some insight that might be useful to me in my work. So one Saturday morning over a good cup of coffee I asked him.
He was silent for a moment and then he said one word - courage. I followed his lead for a while but when the conversation ended I remember thinking to myself that it wasn't the valuable sort of insight that I was anticipating; I felt slightly disappointed.
But over the next few days I found myself reflecting on what he had said.
I thought about how courageous the very young me had been when mum had told me that she’d give me half-a-crown (12.5p) if I sorted out the boy who had been bullying me. The courage it had taken the younger me to knock on his door and punch him on the nose; not the done thing today I know but he never did bully me again, nobody did, although some tried and gave up.
I fought about how courageous it was for that university student I knew in 1970 to leave half way through his first year whilst the rest of us obediently stayed on because he’d decided that the course wasn’t for him. You just didn’t do that in 1970.
I though about how courageous it was to say "I don’t want to train to be a chartered accountant anymore, I want to be a teacher"; to say to another boss "Paul’s leaving, I’d like his job"; to later give up on a full-time secure job and become self-employed.
I thought about courageous I had to be to say "I love you” and to be vulnerable and sometimes to say "I’m sorry". I thought about my other experiences and those of the clients that I had worked with.
My good friend was right. There is no change without courage.
When I first meet with a new client I think that it’s important for me to understand how they feel about the experience. For most people it’s likely to be the first time that they’ve made use of a counsellor so it’s understandable that, as with many other first time experiences, they feel apprehensive and concerned, not knowing what to expect.
The prospect of sharing thoughts and feelings that you may never have been spoken about to anyone, perhaps especially with a stranger, can seem daunting. Perhaps you’re not even sure of how you feel or what your difficulties are.
I don’t know that anything that I say to them at the beginning of our meeting can offer much reassurance but almost with exception people find the time we work together a much easier experience than they had imagined.
I can understand people’s concerns. Not only do they have to face this unusual experience but they also have to deal with their preconceptions and the beliefs that they and others have attached to the significance of ‘having counselling’.
It’s a common belief that ‘having counselling’ means that somehow you’re inadequate, not strong enough to deal with your own problems; that only people who are in some way ‘weak’ turn to counsellors.
Wow. How wrong can you get it!
When I sit with a new client for the first time, when I get the first email or the first telephone call, I have a real sense of awe.
How many people do you know living in this difficult and stressful world who just continue to ‘soldier on’, in difficult relationships, in difficult working environments, facing difficult issues and difficult experiences, just being ’strong’ and being unhappy or discontent.
Yet here I have here in front of me the exception. Here I have in front of me the one that has said ‘No, this is not good enough for me.’, ‘No, this is not what I want.’
The moment that you pick up the phone, the moment that you send the email, you have decided to take control of your life and that’s what makes you different. You’re probably not even sure how you’re going to do it but that’s okay because you have made the decision and that’s what’s important.
So what am I in awe of? I am in awe of your courage.
I know that you may not feel courageous, but you are.
Many people do not fully understand the benefits of counselling and discussing problems with a counsellor. Counselling can actually help with all sorts of problems with a wide range of causes. Research shows that therapies work just as well regardless of your age, gender or ethnicity. They work if you're rich or poor, from a perfect education background or from a poor education background. It makes no difference at all.
Therapy is designed for anyone who is struggling with problems that they can't resolve on their own; often these problems have been on-going for a substantial length of time.
Why therapy / counselling might help
A lot of the time, it's far easier to be more open with a stranger than it would be to be open with a friend or relative. Counsellors are also bound by confidentiality, so you have a level of trust that anything you share is kept private (certain exceptions apply). All your time with a counsellor is generally one-to-one except in the cases of group or couple counselling, which is performed with the group/couple.
There are many different types of therapy available however, they all have a very similar aim. That is to make you feel better in yourself and find your own solutions. A good counsellor will never advise you what to do, they will simply help you find the right path in order to resolve any trouble and difficulties that you're having.
Counselling is a affordable form of treatment considering the benefits which can be gained.