I am biased. I admit it. I am a Registered Psychotherapist, practicing over the last thirteen years. I chose this profession because I believe in it. I have experienced the benefits myself and have seen the change and value in clients over the years. In this blog, we’re going to discuss the benefits of counselling and how to find the right therapist for you. This is the fourth blog in a series on the most effective techniques for improving your mental health. We started this journey introducing the Benefits of Physical Activity, followed by The Science of Meditation, and then The Effects of Journaling,. Counselling is the fourth element on the list of seven we will cover. For those of you who are keen to see what’s ahead, we will also discuss the value of hobbies, social activities, and gratitude. For now let’s take a deeper diver into the history of counselling, the benefits you will receive, and how to find the right therapist for you.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF COUNSELLING
Humans find comfort in sharing their problems or telling their stories. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’ Having someone to listen allows us to hear our story out loud, which can help to provide clarity on our problem, and get a better sense of the choices we have towards resolution. Counselling can be traced back to tribal times where people would come together in a group and share their experiences and sometimes their dreams. Ancient Greeks were the first to identify mental illness as a medical condition. As civilization developed, religion offered a type of counselling, most often by priests, rabbis and other clerics, who would listen and provide advice. However, most people trace modern-day psychotherapy back to Sigmund Freud, a German neurologist, who in the 1890’s, while working with ‘neurotic’ patients, came to the conclusion that mental illness was the result of keeping thoughts or memories in the unconscious. He developed a method later to be called psychoanalysis, which allowed individuals to tell their struggles to a trained ‘psychoanalyst’, an individual trained in interpreting the ‘subconscious’, that part of our psyche that we are not aware of but influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
THREE MAIN APPROACHES TO COUNSELLING
There are a variety of different approaches to counselling, including: psychoanalytical and psychodynamic, Humanistic, and Behavioural. Psychodynamic seeks to address issues by looking at your past experiences that have fostered unconscious beliefs. It focuses on the dynamics of the relationships between different parts of the psyche (conscious and unconscious) and the external world. The Humanistic approach, including client-centered therapy, calls for you to explore your present thoughts and feelings. It focuses on your experience and provides the tools and support necessary for you to work through your own present struggles. The Behavioural approaches guiding principle is that every behaviour is learned, and therefore, harmful behaviours can be corrected by learning new, healthy ones. This approach focuses on the present and on what can be observed in the outside world. It includes such approaches as cognitive-behavioural therapy and rational emotive behaviour therapy. Which approach works best for you depends on what goals you have in mind and the struggles you’re going through. Most importantly, however, is the fit between you and the therapist. Do you feel a connection and degree of comfort at the end of your first session? Do you like him or her? If you feel that sense of connection, you will most likely benefit from spending some time together.
BENEFITS OF COUNSELLING
Counselling offers you someone who’s specifically educated, trained, and skilled to listen to you discuss your feelings without judgement. They’re experienced in talking about most subjects that could be taboo, so there’s no need to feel too embarrassed or ashamed. It is a safe place. A therapist can ask the right questions so that you can explore your struggles and get to the root of why you’ve been suffering. Once the underlying cause is now within your awareness, a therapist can provide you with the right tools, strategies and skills to work through the problem and set you up for success in the future.
Here are nine benefits that counselling can offer you:
1. A New Perspective - Hearing your thoughts and emotions aloud allows you to see them from a new perspective. In addition to your own new insights, the therapist can also offer a new perspective on the issue.
2. Release - Letting out your thoughts and feelings is a form of release that allows you to let go that pain and move forward.
3. Structured time to address your struggles - counselling provides dedicated, organized time to work through your challenges so that you don’t have to carry them inside and alone anymore.
4. Couples work - Couples counselling, a significant part of my practice, allows couples to work through their challenges with a neutral party. Often times couples have a difficult time working through their issues alone because of communication breakdown and pain. A couples therapist can remain a neutral party, helping them to see the other’s perspective, while also providing the tools and skills to work through conflict on their own.
5. You’re not alone - It is not uncommon for people to avoid sharing their pain with others due to a fear of judgement, which can result in isolation and more suffering. A therapist provides you the freedom to talk about your challenges without feeling judged and alone.
6. Better equipped for day-to-day life - Working with a therapist reduces the weight of your struggles, and provides you with effective coping strategies and skills so that you can manage more on your own when you hit those bumps. The therapist is there to support you and equip you with the tools you need to increase your self-esteem and personal power so that you’re not throw out of orbit when life throws you a curveball.
7. Sharing our burden with others means less for us to carry - I always tell my client, “Give it to me. Let me carry it for you,” so that they can move forward and work towards achieving their goals and dreams.
8. Stronger Physical Health - The brain is attached to the body. It is all connected. I have seen stress and anxiety show up in the body in the form of headaches, nausea, chest pain, stomach aches, dizziness, and the sensation of having to go to the bathroom. Similarly, counselling can provide you with more energy, improved quality of sleep, increased appetite. Physical activity is one of the most effective tools for managing stress, anxiety and depression, for elevating feelings of positivity, personal power and control.
9. Increased self-awareness - Having an increased sense of self-awareness can allow you to see your struggles more clearly, let go of the ones you recognize aren’t real, and take proper steps towards resolving those that are, resulting in greater peace and confidence.
Clearly there are many benefits to counselling, and a number of approaches that could work for you. Sometimes people will say to me, “I don’t need to go because it’s not that bad.” Traditionally, people have gone to counselling once their situation becomes unmanageable. But the truth is, it’s better to come in when things are okay and move towards great, so that you have the tools and skills you need for when you hit those bumps. Why wait until your suffering becomes unbearable? You don’t have to. People use exercise to strengthen their bodies. We go see our doctor once a year (hopefully) to get a checkup even if nothing is wrong. Why aren’t we doing this for our minds? When we don’t exercise our muscles, the neglect can lead to more severe injuries. When we don’t go to our doctor for our annual exams, we may only find out about serious illnesses when they are much harder to treat. The same is true for mental health. We continue to take courses, study and learn to strengthen our intellect. Why aren’t we using counselling to strengthen our emotional and mental wellbeing? Find a therapist with whom you connect, and start moving from good to great!