Good question. Of course I am biased so I will own that from the outset. What’s not to like about having someone’s undivided attention for an hour every week to talk about the things you want to talk about with no interruptions? Even better, the therapist won't discuss what you speak about with anyone so you can feel quite safe to share your innermost thoughts and feelings, however controversial.
Therapists go through counselling as part of our training, so we understand what it’s like and also to make sure we’ve worked through our own personal stuff. Yep, we’re human. We have dramas in our lives too! So I want to be clear that I am not just a fan because I am a psychologist and I have a vested interest in counselling. I am a fan because I have been at the receiving end of counselling on and off throughout my career and I have found it to be positively life changing. So worthwhile. I’m all for it. But since you are reading this post, you are obviously still sitting on the fence.
The reasons why people consider counselling generally fall into three broad categories:
If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD, then counselling is likely to be beneficial for you. Many people are able to reduce or even get rid of the symptoms of mental illness through counselling. It takes time and effort on the part of the client, who will typically work on the insights they gain from therapy between counselling sessions. So it’s not just the ‘talking’ that helps. It’s a process clients go through over time and a lot of work gets done between sessions to enable this to occur.
Counselling can also be useful for people when they are feeling stressed and nothing seems to be helping. If things are not going well and you feel you are not coping as well as usual; if you are not enjoying the things you normally do for fun; seeing someone is likely to be beneficial. Your therapist won’t solve your problem for you but they will help you gain clarity so you can work through the situation yourself. They may also be able to help you develop new skills and awareness so you cope more effectively - not only with the current situation, but with future situations as well.
Just as you can be physically healthy though quite unfit and out of condition, you can be mentally healthy and functioning quite well in life, but know within yourself things could be better. For instance, you may not be as confident as you’d like, or you may not be willing to take risks you’d like. Perhaps you’d like to improve your public speaking skills. You may simply want to develop your knowledge and understanding of yourself, or to make a good marriage great. You may want to become more loving and accepting of yourself. This is where mental fitness comes in and a therapist can help. This therapeutic process represents a very exciting phase your life and can result in significant personal growth.
Whichever of these three camps you fall into, counselling can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of your life.
The first thing I often hear from clients is that it takes quite a while to work up the courage, or the motivation, to start seeking counselling from a professional. In some cases the time between getting a referral from a Doctor and actually choosing and booking in with a therapist can range from a couple of days to several months. Having the courage to seek help it is really hard and most people feel quite vulnerable to begin with. The second thing I often hear is that after a few sessions, clients often say “I wish I had come and seen you years ago”. That is very rewarding for me and I feel honoured. At the same time I wonder what I can do to help others out there who are feeling uncertain about taking the leap and going to see someone. I hope these comments from my clients convince you not to deliberate for too long. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start to feel better or move in the direction you want to go.
Two caveats. First - just as there are good mechanics and not so good mechanics - same goes with therapists. So it is important to do some research first and then to keep searching until you find the right psychologist for you. Sometimes you find the right one straight away and sometimes it takes a while. Second - there is no point going to therapy if you are only going because someone else wants you to. You can’t force someone who doesn’t want treatment. It just doesn’t work.
Bottom line is, therapy can be beneficial for anyone. If something is having a negative impact on your life, or if there’s something personal you’ve always wanted to work on, there’s no time like the present. If anyone has experience in finding a therapist, I would be interested in any comments you'd like to make.