How might counselling help?
Challenges, periods of crisis and change happen to everyone in life and often we are able to adapt. Along the way we learn new coping mechanisms whilst hopefully becoming more aware and resilient in the process.
However, there are times when, for reasons beyond our control or awareness, we struggle with the stress in our lives. Perhaps we developed a way of coping which served us well at the time but later becomes restrictive or self destructive.
I have put together some examples of how this can happen and how counselling can help people to radically change their own lives for the better.
This is just a snap shop into how counselling may help and is by no means exhaustive, but I hope to give you some sense of what you have to gain from Counselling.
Important note : Confidentiality is extremely important in counselling. The below examples are loosely based upon years of experience. However, none of the below represent any one particular person and no names or specific details have been used.
‘Everyone else comes first’
Marie, a 41 year old recruitment consultant & single mother with an 18 year old son, comes to counselling feeling exhausted, withdrawn and lost. Marie is frustrated with feeling at the demands of those in her life.
Her supervisor at work continues to push her, resulting in her working longer hours or taking work home. Previous romantic relationships have left her feeling resentful of putting in so much and not feeling she gets much back.
Marie’s friends have grown to rely on her as the person who will always be available but will not complain. Marie has become increasingly upset and exhausted and her health has begun to suffer, headaches, colds and other symptoms have become common place.
How counselling might help:
After the initial tentative session which allows both Marie and her counsellor to get a feel for working with one another, Marie starts to explore her situation and feelings with the counsellor’s support.
Marie explains that once her son moved out of home and started to find his independence, she was left feeling lost and isolated. Through exploring what is happening for Marie, it becomes clear Marie fills time alone with distractions. Spending time with people when she doesn’t want to, comfort eating and absorbed with the internet, to avoid growing feelings of anxiety.
By allowing Marie to tell her own story at her pace, Marie begins to realise patterns throughout her life; that she has gained feelings of worth as a person largely from helping others through life.
No longer having someone in constant need of her left Marie feeling adrift and anxious. Marie has become disconnected from her wants and needs, and the mere idea of putting herself first feels alien and uncomfortable.
The counselling sessions provide her with a supportive environment in which she can openly wrestle with the idea that she is important in her own right.; that at times it’s ok to put herself first and talk about what she might want from life.
Whilst Marie initially resists this as it seems so alien, given time and space there is a realisation that she does not have to derive her worth purely from pleasing others, this is something she has learnt without realising.
Feeling duty bound…
Time is spent exploring Marie’s support network, those she enjoys spending time with and feels energised by. Marie begins to establish a sense of what she enjoys and when it might be more appropriate to politely say no. Marie starts to accept that whilst we may feel duty bound to say yes, it can be appropriate and empowering to say no.
Marie tentatively suggests she always had an interest in doing something creative such as painting but was too embarrassed to try. As a result Marie decides to look for a local course she might try on an evening.
Whilst Marie’s situation has not changed in itself, how she feels about it has and her perspective has shifted. Marie is no longer carrying around a burden of resentment, is more self-aware and has more energy. This is all as a result of being more discerning in her choices. Rather than fear her new freedom, Marie starts to see it as an opportunity.
The freedom to express herself without fear of judgement and reconnect with her wants and needs allows Marie’s confidence to slowly grow. This becomes reflected in her body language and she becomes more assertive in her work and personal life as a result.
Marie is able to focus on her own needs and express herself anew and her new vitality enables her to enjoy time spent with friends and family more as a result.
Whilst Marie knew on some level she was taking on too much and beating herself up, she didn’t know why or feel able to stop. By reaching out for support, awareness and empowerment, Marie takes responsibility for making the changes she needed to make.
Marie ends the sessions feeling validated, her needs and desires now matter and she feels more in control of her own life.
Mark, a 28 year old marketing executive comes to counselling feeling completely stuck in a rut and frustrated with life. Having worked in the same role for several years, Mark has become increasingly bored and unhappy, yet unable to affect change. Mark feels his supervisor at work pays no attention to him or his work and he is often left to his own devices.
Outside of work Mark feels trapped in a repetitive and stale life of watching TV he has little interest in, messing about on the internet and drinking to excess at weekends.
Mark comes to counselling feeling empty, isolated and worn out, at a loss as to how he got in this situation and why he does not feel capable of changing it.
How counselling might help:
Mark’s initial session allows him to allay some of his fears about what counselling might involve and get a sense of whether he feels comfortable talking to the counsellor.
The session allows for the counsellor to establish a bit of background for where Mark is at. Once Mark establishes he wants to continue, the ‘real work’ of counselling begins.
Mark’s body language tells its own story, he slumps into his seat with eyes focussed on the floor and shoulders drooped. Mark explains how he feels as though he is trapped, stuck in a web of soulless tedium but feels powerless to change it, he berates himself for not doing anything about it.
At first there is a sense that Mark is distant and wary of sharing his apparent vulnerability. Mark’s critical self talk becomes a focal point in the sessions as he explores how he feels about himself and his place in the world.
It becomes clear that over time Mark has developed a sense of ‘not being good enough’ and struggles with feelings of inadequacy. The space enables Mark to explore and contain these difficult feelings without being judged.
As the counselling relationship slowly enables Mark to normalise his feelings and release some of the shame he is carrying, the focus shifts towards what or who makes Mark feel good and an exploration of his support network.
Keeping people at arm’s length…
Mark begins to realise that for some time he has shut out those who he feels closest to, neglecting to share his feelings out of the fear of being seen as weak.
As Mark begins to tentatively share his fears and experiences support rather than judgement, the grip of anxiety begins to loosen and he visibly begins to brighten and relax.
It becomes clear to Mark that whilst he has been protecting himself from feeling vulnerable by keeping people at arm’s length, he has also unwittingly blocked any joy getting in to his work and personal life and as a result has become disengaged with life in general.
The support afforded to Mark empowers him to be more open and consider who in his life he feels is deserving of more trust. There is a shift towards looking at what Mark can do and what changes he might like to make.
As a result Mark becomes more engaged with people in his work and personal life, he begins to actively look for and notice opportunities in both areas rather than lamenting that they never ‘happen’ to him.
Mark’s courage in risking feeling vulnerable in counselling is rewarded by his new-found willingness to open himself up to possibilities. His improved self-awareness allows him to better understand that whilst our moods naturally fluctuate, we can learn to deal with potential future setbacks and we don’t have to do it all alone.
Like Marie, whilst Mark knew on some level something was wrong and he needed support. It took great courage to make that choice, rather than stay in a ‘safe’ but unhappy place. Many of us stay in this ‘safe’ but stressful state until we reach the point of crisis.
By seeking support, a different perspective and empowerment from an outside source, Mark has taken responsibility for his own life.