A counsellor must be prepared to work on any topic, simply because it is well-known that a presenting problem is often linked to apparently unrelated issues. For example, you may seek help for depression, but depression is always a symptom of something else, and a counsellor knows that it is the “something else” issue that needs to be looked at.
Nevertheless, it helps if the counsellor you are seeing has experience of working on an issue. I have worked on many common counselling issues, including:
Recovering from Trauma
When you have experienced trauma, you need to find a way of talking about it. You need to tell the story, probably many times over. This way you heal from the trauma and reduce its power over you.
It is difficult to do this with friends and family simply because most people will not want to go through this telling and retelling process. Or rather, you will not want to lean on your friends and family as much as you need to. Most people find that it is easier to do this with someone they are not close to, someone who’s job is to listen as long as is necessary. A counsellor.
Bereavement, Grief and Loss
Grief is like a trauma. However, there is an additional problem which is that it is not recognised as trauma, so people expect you to “get over” it quickly. We live in a society which is in too much of a hurry to grieve and this leaves emotional scars which can last years or even a lifetime.
Counselling can offer that non-judgemental space that you need to grieve. A counsellor will not say any of these phrases or expect you to “get over” a significant loss. Instead counsellors recognise that you don’t get over a loss, you become accepting of it, a process that can take a long time, even years in the case of the loss of someone really important to you.
Complex grief is a form of grief where you do not become accepting of the loss even after a long time has passed. For usually complex reasons (which is why it is called complex grief), you can get stuck, possibly for years. If grief still feels unbearable many months after a loss, it might be complex grief, in which case counselling can help unstick the grieving process.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression and Anxiety are together a huge source of distress in modern Britain, with many millions of people off sick which the government claims costs the economy over £8bn a year (2009 figures). These distresses are often related to stress.
Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications can offer short-term respite from distress, but they do not solve it. This is because depression and anxiety are symptoms, not causes. Underneath, there is always something else going on.
The counselling approach to depression and anxiety is to find the underlying causes, the sources of stress and to explore the suppressed feelings that cause the distress in the first place. To find an outlet for those feelings, which in turn relieves the depression or anxiety.
Many people take up counselling to understand themselves better. Why do you do what you do? Why are you confident in some aspects of your life but timid in others? Why do you keep making the same mistakes, have the same relationships, getting into the same messes?
Sometimes these questions can be answered through self-help books, but sometimes the books make the problems worse because they give you a false expectation of change, which you then cannot achieve.
Counselling provides a way of asking these questions so that they can be answered by you as a result of a deeper understanding of your own personal process. This way, you can bring about change in ways that will work because the answers have come from within you, rather than from a book, and play to your personal strengths.
We live in a fast-moving society in which everyone is expected to fill their lives up with things to do. We are surrounded by images and stories of ‘perfect’ people living ‘perfect’ lives. Our own lives are unable to live up to these expectations and relationships suffer.
Counselling can help to see through these marketing-driven fantasies. Learn to slow down, create space for yourself and give the important relationships in your life the time they deserve. Learn to understand what you want from relationships and whether the relationships you have are really what you want, or are they what’s expected of you?
You don’t choose your family and yet they are the people closest to you, who to some extent formed who you are. For many, this is a good thing but even then, problems can seem impossible to sort out. However, counselling can help to find new solutions to family problems.
There is no guarantee that families will work and some people do have families that are quite toxic. In these cases, counselling can be used to work out how much or how little contact is tolerable, to find the good parts if any and to avoid the toxic parts.
Separation and Divorce
Separation and divorce are often listed as one of life’s most stressful events. And yet there is often little support available. People going through this stress find that the people around them are too busy taking sides, or getting caught up in their own anxieties about their relationships to be helpful.
Sometimes a counsellor is the only person who will listen and understand.
Self-Esteem and Self-Acceptance
Many people have self-esteem issues, usually traceable to childhood. Bullying can lead to low self-esteem that can affect you for many years after the bullying event. Or family events such as parental divorce, a difficult sibling, scapegoating, poverty or other family circumstances can undermine your confidence.
In counselling you can explore and understand the source of your low self-esteem, find ways of liking yourself more and find the self-acceptance that is the key to contentment.
Anger is all around us, unexpressed but acted out in many ways. We live in an angry society in denial.
Not surprisingly then, many people have anger “issues”. These are not really issues, but unexpressed feelings that need to be expressed. In counselling these unexpressed feelings can be explored and understood in a way you simply are not allowed to do anywhere else.
You may need to change because you don’t want to continue living the way you do. You may feel blocked because you want to change and don’t know how. Or you may have to change because circumstances have imposed changes on you.
Whatever the circumstances, even when it is what you want, change is difficult and can be frustratingly slow and emotionally disturbing.
Counselling can help you work through the feelings around change. It can help you go through the change in the way that is best for you, to accept the difficulties, to accept your limitations, to recognise your capabilities and be open to new experiences.
Childhood Abuse and Neglect
Your childhood shapes your whole life, so what does that mean if your childhood was inadequate or even terrible?
Counselling can help you overcome the consequences of an abusive or neglectful upbringing and make the most of your life now.
Contrary to popular myth, this is not about scapegoating your parents and blaming them for your feelings, that approach is counter-productive. It is instead an opportunity to leave the negative aspects of your childhood behind, claim the positives as your own and form a self-confident image of yourself that is not limited by your childhood.