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  • Writer's pictureJanet Burford

What you should know about Professional Counselling

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

Dear friends,

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

Myth 1

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? This is considered a normal activity in a community. We 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 after 18th century. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was developed and continues to be revised (currently the fifth edition) by experts in the field of psychology and psychiatry and for many people, this has provided enormous benefits of pharmacological solutions and a psychological framework for the chronic and acute conditions that have been plaguing them.

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 psychological and emotional well-being (check out counselling associations such as PACFA, ARCAP, CCAA 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.”

Myth 2

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. Counselling offers a space to put words to 'what isn't right'. 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 in their situation. Don't worry, disorientation is a healthy message to you that its time to make a space to turn toward what is happening inside you with kindness and compassion.

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.

Myth 3

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 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 or even that your problem is not as bad as someone else's so what's the struggle. 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 someone 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!

Myth 4

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 and what caused you to notice it

  • 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 counselling is not a magic bullet (if only!) but counselling is a collaborative effort where your counsellor will help you develop your self-understanding, self-compassion and ability to observe patterns and offer you the tools and/or strategies and sometimes interesting challenges for you to experiment with and tweak (or as is sometimes part of the process, avoid until it can no longer be avoided). It can be expected that counselling will complete naturally as a client invests the time and effort into their desired changes. On average, this may take 4 - 12 appointments or until a person is confident to apply what they have learned about themselves. Initially the appointments may typically be more frequent and then gradually lessen as the client experiences the benefits of what they apply in their lives. Sometimes counselling may be longer, especially where there are complex issues present and sometimes shorter because talking things out is a helpful process that helps people move through their internal dilemmas.

So what is Professional Counselling?

Professional counselling is an investment into emotional and mental well-being

Counselling can be seen as an investment into your emotional and psychological well-being that you get to choose where to invest and how long. Gym membership can be seen as one of the ways to invest into your physical well-being but reaching your goals are likely to be prolonged if you do not go or attend spasmodically or keep unhelpful lifestyle habits in place outside of going to the gym. So it is with counselling though at least with counselling, you only pay for the appointments you attend!

Professional counselling is an invitation to embrace potential

It is tempting to define counselling in terms of achieving client goals and direction or a set of techniques, skills and approaches to help explore, challenge and solve people's problematic issues. It can be equally tempting to say it is a listening space where someone can give expression to heartfelt and often, painful experiences in order to get help with them. Indeed, these are important facets to the counselling process. For me, professional counselling is an invitation of space and time with a compassionate and qualified counsellor professional who is dedicated to your unique journey and personal definition of transformation. I do want to include an affidavit however, that transformation is not a requisite or expectation of you when you attend professional counselling, although it is likely that something will be changed for you as you embrace the potential of change.

Professional counselling is an invitation of space and time with a compassionate and qualified counsellor professional dedicated to your unique journey and personal definition of transformation!

Professional counselling supports the change process

My work as counsellor puts me in direct contact with a change process that is occurring for my clients, sometimes really obvious and other times, more subtle! For me, it is a sacred privilege - for my clients, it can be daunting, it takes courage, it is challenging, maybe painful and it is spiritual! Change is not always welcomed but it is necessary in life, and by its very nature it can be uncomfortable. Because of our own blind spots or proclivity to avoid, deny, misdirect and blame, the need for change is not always recognised as an opportunity for transformation. Counselling supports the change process, undergirding and supporting a client in their moments of disparity and inner conflict.

Professional counselling supports the change process, undergirding and supporting a client in their moments of disparity and inner conflict.

In conclusion

Facing the possibility that we are uncomfortable now because change is needed can feel threatening to our survival, to our narrative of who we think we are and sometimes to our identity. If we can reach a place where it is time to consider the possibility or need to change because it is simply too uncomfortable to stay where we are, then it can be a wonderful gift if we can be open to embracing the potential for change and all its possibilities.

Do you have any other queries about counselling that you would like to ask? Have you found this helpful? I would love to hear from you!

If you are considering counselling, let's connect!

M: 0468 853 871

Please note: If you are in crisis, please contact Lifeline on 131114.

Yours kindly,

Janet Burford,

Anchorage Counselling.

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