Having successfully navigated several milestones and transitions in your life, you’re finally able to enjoy the fruits of your labour without the angst.
But, then, out of the blue, a trusted friend suggests counselling. You feel anger rising to your throat, there’s nothing wrong! I’m not ill. Or are you? Before you shut the conversation down, jump to conclusions, or question your friendship, take a moment to expand your perspective.
Why go to counselling? In my experience as a counsellor, the desire to attend counselling is often a good thing, indicating a desire to learn and grow as an individual. People reach out to counsellors for a variety of reasons, probably more than you know. If someone you trust suggests counselling, consider that it might not mean you’re helpless or that you are deficient in any way.
Perhaps, it was suggested to you because they believe you would benefit from an external perspective or an opportunity to explore the situation more deeply before you decide on next steps. Either way, it's a good idea and something to really consider.
So, why go to counselling?
1. You can explore issues in the safety of a confidential, therapeutic relationship
Starting the therapeutic process can feel intimidating, especially if it’s your first time or if you’ve had a negative experience in the past. Deciding to see someone and talking about what’s on your mind can be hugely comforting. Especially if they have no vested interest in the outcome and are used to working with clients in a similar situation. You can let down your guard and share what you’re really thinking and feeling without fear of offending someone. Clients often report how much lighter they feel about their situation after unburdening themselves.
2. It's a chance to learn something about yourself that you may otherwise not know.
Often, we are very good at compartmentalising our life especially if we wear many hats. We are also skilled at underestimating the impact some parts of our life have on our current day-to-day activities. Once you start to discover the links, you have an opportunity to make as many changes as you’d like, to optimise your internal narrative. If you come across something you’d prefer to leave well alone, a skilled counsellor will have alternative ways for you to explore the topic or pattern of behaviour without you accessing those painful details.
3. Counselling helps you manage relationships.
Cultivating personal and professional relationships, including a significant one is part of a healthy and balanced life. However, fluctuating demands, shifting circumstances, and surviving the stress of the day-to-day can cause you to develop a singular focus in how to cultivate and sustain relationships which may be keeping you stuck.
Because counselling is non-judgmental and offers respected opinions and advice, counsellors help you discover the answers you need in your own way. By examining your experiences and emotions, counsellors guide you to a better understanding of what works best for you and how to stop doing things that don’t help you.
Counselling can help you get out of your own way, so that you can recognise alternative ways to connect with like-minded people to cultivate a variety of positive, supportive relationships.
3. You gain validation.
There is no playbook for how to be a good human. It is subjective and takes a combination of trial and error. Your perspective of what that looks like may also change over time. For those who don’t have a support network readily available to them, objective validation, guidance, and encouragement can be extremely valuable.
In many settings having an objective person who can provide you with insight on how you can improve your situation most efficiently, is accepted and highly valued. The assumption that you must be ill or somehow 'less than' to seek out the support of a counsellor, is misplaced. Well people see counsellors too! Life provides everyone with certain challenges that may feel overwhelming or has a high probability of becoming so. Seeking professional help to overcome life’s obstacles is different to having a mental illness.
Recently I was contacted by a father who wanted to talk to someone about how to manage his wife’s return from hospital. She had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness and he needed support to work out how to best communicate this to his children and other family members. After our 30 minute conversation he thanked me and said how our conversation had been the most helpful than all the conversations he'd had that week on the topic.
5. Proactive maintenance of mental wellbeing
Counselling can be used as a proactive measure or an opportunity to spotlight, celebrate and expand on what is contributing to your ongoing success. Often, this kind of reflection can make the difference between tolerating an existing situation or enhancing it for the better.
Counselling recognises that by continuing to behave the way you do, it could result in complacency or boredom, otherwise known as a 'rut'. Or worse still, lacking novelty and adventure.
Maintaining the status quo inhibits positive growth and meaningful discoveries about yourself. Counselling can help to facilitate a rekindling of your relationship with yourself. As with any relationship, it needs regular attention and pruning.
Participating in counselling is like going to the gym — stretching and strengthening — for the relationship you have with yourself.
When a friend suggests you join them on a run, it’s not necessarily their way of telling you it’s time to get fit. They may just want to spend more time with you.
So when a friend suggests a counsellor, it's more likely their way of saying, "I don’t think I’m what you need for this. A counsellor will definitely be able to support you better!”
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