How does therapy help?

Understandably, people often want to know if counselling is helpful

Over the years that I’ve worked as a therapist, I’ve been asked numerous times by prospective clients, “How does counselling help?”  And I’ve yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. Not because I’m in any doubt that it helps, but because the how bit is so hard to articulate concisely.

Counselling works in a number of ways. One of these is simply that getting things off our chests usually makes us feel better. Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their problems to family or friends. They don’t want to burden them, or perhaps what they want to talk about is too private.

Having someone whose role is to listen without judgement in a safe, confidential setting can be really precious.

If you haven’t tried therapy before, counselling may seem mysterious and confusing

Counselling goes beyond just listening. The therapist works to really understand the client, and in doing so helps the client to understand themselves. Psychodynamic therapist, Antonella Bonetti, uses the analogy of a messy canvas, covered in all sorts of colours and shapes. This canvas represents the client’s life experiences. Looking at them, some areas make sense, some don’t and some feel painful to look at. The therapist helps the client to make sense of the canvas and is alongside them when they look at the painful parts. With time, these painful parts become more manageable and, as Antonella says, “the initial confusing canvas may be transformed into a very different work of art.”

Counselling is about increasing self-awareness and making changes

An important ingredient in this transformation is compassion. Most of us beat ourselves up for not being good enough in some way or another. Having a therapist understand why you are the way you are and accept you just as you are can encourage you to be more compassionate with yourself.

Another important ingredient is awareness. As Brighton-based therapist, Mel James points out, positive change stems from awareness and counselling can hold up mirrors to our blind spots. Therapists help clients understand how events in their past influence their present beliefs and behaviours, and how those beliefs and behaviours may be hindering them. This increased awareness can liberate clients to choose different ways of being. As Mel says, “it can also help us reconnect with our true selves, leading to increased fulfilment in life.”

I still don’t think I’ve successfully explained how counselling works. There’s more that I could say. But ultimately it’s less important to understand how it works than to give it a chance to work for you.

Often clients tell me that counselling has brought benefits without them really noticing how or when the change happened – things shifted for the better without them understanding it. So my suggestion for anyone who’s considering personal counselling is to give it a try. It may be a leap of faith, but counselling can be so amazing and life-changing that it’s a leap well worth taking.

Kate Crawford is Head of Therapy Services at One Therapy London.
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