Very few clients have asked me how or why therapy works but if they did, what would I say..?
Maybe you’ve considered seeing a counsellor or therapist but wondered whether it’s worth it? Or how it works? It takes a lot of courage to take that step and it’s a big investment in terms of time and emotional energy (not to mention the cost).
When I start with a new client we discuss what they hope to gain from seeing a therapist. As we approach our final session I ask clients to make a self-assessment. What has changed for them? Did they meet their aim?
Sometimes I am surprised by the extent to which clients feel different and for some clients this is a profound and transformative change. Just to clarify, I’m not surprised that it works but sometimes, my logical self marvels at how well it works. On the face of it, how can a simple once weekly, 50 minute series of meetings facilitate change? I’m learning all the time but based on my experience to date, this is how I make sense of it:
We get to tell – and hear – our own story, perhaps for the first time.
For some people, therapy can be the first time they get to hear and explore their own story. Coren says that the narratives we tell are closely linked to our development “they give a voice to who we are, where we come from and what we want to become”.
In the safe space between therapist and client, we can examine our thoughts and feeling about ourselves, our relationships and our hopes and fears. This is something we often don’t take time to consider and in some cases we actively avoid it.
Self-awareness creates choice
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. This is one of my favourite quotes from Carl Jung. By making the unconscious conscious, we create choice. We get to understand how our internal narratives are influencing our perceptions, behaviour and therefore our lives and decide “Is this what I want?”. We become the author rather than the protagonist.
It provides a space where we can be seen, heard and accepted.
I’ve heard so many times during my training that “it’s the relationship that heals”. Intuitively we may accept the sense of this and for many that is enough, but for those who need like an evidence based approach, you may be as interested as I am in this research by Beckes and Coan on Social Baseline Theory. Their research in human biology indicates that humans flourish optimally when they are in close proximity to each other. In addition, when faced with a challenging situation, the presence of another, even a stranger, changes (reduces) our perception of the difficulty of the challenge faced (Badenoch & Porges, 2018). Furthermore, when the person with us is trusted or someone who “gets” us the person’s perception of the difficulty or pain reduces further.
Psychotherapist Tricia Scott sums it up beautifully “when [people] feel heard, recognised and deeply understood, they feel validated and strengthened at what subjectively feels like the core of their beings. As a result they feel better able to deal with their distress and embrace life”.
And this is my experience. There is something that takes place, in the space between therapist and client, when the relationship works well that is truly life affirming, as Yalom puts it “a deeply human encounter”. Investing in this, for yourself, can be a radical act of self-kindness.
Finding a counsellor
Counselling is an unregulated industry (i.e. there is no legal restriction around who can call themselves a counsellor), however, there are 3 main awarding bodies who hold their members to high professional standards and levels of training.
The British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) is a membership organisation and a registered charity that sets standards for therapeutic practice and provides information for therapists, clients of therapy, and the general public. The have a large directory of qualified members: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/how-to-find-a-therapist/
The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) is a professional association of psychotherapy organisations and practitioners in the United Kingdom. It is restricted to registered clinical psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors (similar, but with shorter training). https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/find-a-therapist/
The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies is the lead organisation for CBT in the UK and Ireland. http://www.cbtregisteruk.com/Default.aspx
All of the above websites offer a postcode search to help you find a suitable practitioner near you.
Alex Coren, Short-term Psychotherapy, Palgrave MacMillan
Tricia Scott, Integrative Psychotherapy in Healthcare, Palgrave MacMillan
Irvin D Yalom, The Gift of Therapy, Piatkus.
Bonnie Badenoch, The Heart of Trauma, Norton.
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