Updated: Aug 16
Have you thought about connecting with a professional qualified counsellor and yet struggle with the stigma and unknowns associated with it? In this blog, I would like to address some of the myths and demystify Professional Counselling.
Addressing (some) Myths about Professional Counselling
A professional counsellor is 'an expert' and can tell you what's wrong and 'fix' it.
Did you know, pre-18th-century, 'counselling' was given by family, community, faith communities, and other informal relationships where an individual or families could 'talk out' their personal dilemmas and receive care and nurture? As a society we then (around 18th century) began to move into a medical model of care, with 'clinical experts' who defined what is normal and indeed 'abnormal', offering diagnoses, treatment and care. This changed our social landscape where we have an established and needed medical model of care being our 'norm' in modern times and which incorporates pharmacological solutions where needed to treat the diagnosed problem.
Counselling has a different focus which we will explain later however it is a licensed profession in countries such as US and UK. In Australia, professional counselling is privately regulated as a legitimate profession of qualified professionals registered with counselling associations that can offer effective care for mental and emotional well-being (check out counselling associations such as PACFA, ARCAP and the ACA for currently registered members), though it is not yet recognised through the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS). Professional counselling primarily focuses on the whole person in a non-clinical/non-medical way, with the primary tool being that of building a relationship where trust and rapport are established so that they can journey with, support and empower the person with tools/strategies/means that honour their desired personal change/direction.
The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) define psychotherapy and counselling as:
“... professional activities that utilise an interpersonal relationship to enable people to develop self understanding and to make changes in their lives.”
Professional counselling is for 'crazy' people or when something is really wrong.
A counsellor is primarily ' a non-judgemental listener' who provides a safe, confidential space for people talk about, process and come to terms or make peace with the deep matters of their heart. Talking through issues is a fundamentally human way of processing problems, emotions, thoughts and personal dilemmas. It's normal but not always easy! There may be major events that have happened or defining moments in life that turn all we know on it's head or it can be a niggling sense of something is not right that can hard to voice. Counselling offers a space to put words to 'what isn't right' in the context of where you are now. It can be integrative and holistic, offering an unbiased perspective, normalisation, insight and hope for the person who may be struggling with a sense of disorientation that 'feels crazy' during these times. This disorientation is also very normal. It can feel very disconcerting and uncomfortable for many people but while it feels crazy-making, it is not a terminal pathology!
Counselling can also be a space for 'mental health maintenance' where people can talk to someone who is unbiased and has a holistic view of mental health that can offer methods or strategies that keep them in good psychological shape - much like checking in with a GP every so often.
If I admit I want to see a professional counsellor, it means that I am weak.
This is a biggie! Sharing that you are struggling with an issue or difficult emotions is not a sign of weakness. There is no doubt that we can feel vulnerable, BUT this is human! Being vulnerable is not being weak. We can be tempted to compare and believe that other people do not struggle or they are dealing with something so much better than you (if they are not publicly crying or visibly upset). In reality, we are mostly not privy to the private lives of others, their secret fears, hopes and dreams, their tears or their vulnerabilities, nor often their internal histories. We have not walked in their shoes. And no one else has walked in your shoes, either! It takes tremendous courage to share when we feel vulnerable (remember courage is not the absence of fear, but having the fear and doing it anyway). Take heart, when your best friend shares their secret fears and concerns, I can bet that you are not thinking they are weak - for most people, there is only empathy and understanding. Be your own best friend!
Professional counselling will be expensive and take a long time.
People come into counselling for many reasons and there is no one pathway or one size fits all approach. The following factors need to be considered:
How long the issue/s has been in place
The impact and severity of the issue/s
Where you are in the journey and where you want to be
The time needed for you to make adjustments or changes to be where you want to be
While it can be just one session needed, this is not usual, however most people have reported relief after one session. Sharing a problem can be therapeutic in and of itself! My perspective is that