The other day, on my way to town, I listened to talk-back radio questioning the counselling industry and wanting to hear from listeners whether counselling ever worked for them. Listening to some of the comments made, I was amazed how quickly people are prepared to judge without bothering to do at least some research, looking for facts, or doing at least some sort of deeper thinking.
Counselling and counsellors have been the target for much ridicule and sarcastic comments for many years. In a society that puts a lot of emphasis on being successful, showing no weaknesses, and appearing spotless, having to go to a counsellor must mean for many people the ultimate declaration of personal failure and weakness.
Counselling is not much different from an accountant showing you that your spendings don't match your income and setting you up for bankruptcy; or your doctor telling you that your eating habits will lead to heart problems or diabetes. A counsellor can show you how your actions, beliefs, values, and self-concepts could stop you from living the life you long for. Having the benefit of training in human development, the development of psychological problems, and in other related fields, the counsellor can help you make links to causes and consequences you may not have thought about. Add to that wealth of knowledge what the medical profession calls 'bedside manners' (giving time and undivided attention, care, empathy, appreciation, human connection), you have the unique tool-box of a counsellor.
So, how does counselling work? Or better, how does it not work? There is a widespread myth that going to counselling can fix your problems. The surprising wake-up call for many people is, that going to counselling doesn't guarantee you that your problems are going to vanish – just like going on holiday doesn't guarantee you that you will have a good time and will be re-charged.
The most important part in making counselling, or holidays, or your depleted accounts work out well is YOU! You have to apply yourself! You have to look at the feedback the counsellor gives you and make changes in your behaviour, your lifestyle, your thinking. You have to go out of your comfort zone and stretch, face fears, and stand up for your beliefs and values.
Counselling is not like a confessional where you can express your despair of your situation and then hope for some higher power to make it all go away. Whether counselling works or not is more dependent on you than anything else. However, when you find a counsellor you can connect with, it's like finding a coach that can inspire and motivate you to go the extra mile, make the extra push-up, stretch beyound the sore muscles, get fit, train for the next marathon, or recover from an injury.