Life can be difficult. Often we cope pretty well with its challenges: things change, time moves on, we adapt or the situation improves, so we begin to feel better. But, at other times, the ways we usually deal with our concerns no longer seem to work.
Perhaps a difficult situation gets worse or out of the blue something very distressing happens. You might feel suddenly overwhelmed or gradually be getting more unhappy. You may be troubled by the past, disturbed by recent events, or have a sense that something isn't right but not know why.
Perhaps other people are concerned about you but don't seem to be able to help and nothing you do really changes things. Maybe you don't feel truly yourself in some way or even though life seems to be going okay, you still feel stressed, anxious, depressed or confused.
This is when counselling can help, by giving you the opportunity to talk in depth about your concerns in a professional, confidential relationship, away from other parts of your life, with someone dedicated to listening closely and helping you explore things to find a way through.
What is it for?
People see counsellors for all sorts of reasons. It might be about the past or the present, the loss of someone or something, or being stuck in ongoing circumstances, whether that's in work, family life or in how you feel about yourself.
Some of the concerns commonly discussed in counselling are: feelings of depression and anxiety; family, parenting and relationship difficulties; work-related stress; grief and bereavement; abuse, bullying or other traumatic experiences; navigating life changes; questions about identity; self-harm; suicidal thoughts; distress around eating; and many more.
For some people, counselling provides an extra layer of concentrated support to help deal with emotional distress. For others, it might be a stimulating opportunity for personal development and growth: a space to reflect on personal history, current challenges and concerns about the future; a way to find new perspectives on self, relationships and the wider world.
Sometimes people see a counsellor following a mental health diagnosis. If you have been referred to IAPT (iTalk) in the NHS but are stuck on a waiting list, or you want something more in-depth and less rigidly structured, then counselling might be for you.
Counselling, psychotherapy or therapy?
The terms therapy, talking therapy and psychological therapy are generic phrases describing a range of practices within talking-based mental health support.
Confusingly, there is some disagreement among therapists about the differences between counselling and psychotherapy. In my own training approach, these words describe the same thing in terms of what actually happens in a session but refer to the preferences, traditions and histories of different training courses, therapy organisations and work contexts.