What do I talk about in counselling?

There is no limit to what can be discussed in therapy and the more open you are, the more effective counselling will be.

Some people think their problems aren’t significant enough. Others fear they have too much to say, that they might overwhelm the therapist or open a can of worms they won’t be able to close. Some worry that there are right things and wrong things to talk about in therapy, that they don’t have the proper language or that there’s no point in talking about anything as it can’t change the past anyway.

All these worries are normal and completely understandable. They are also unwarranted. There is no right or wrong way to talk and no subject matter that can’t be explored. Most clients who struggle with what to say find that it becomes easier with a little time. Therapists are trained to help people talk, and the empathy and non-judgemental approach therapists adopt soon enables clients to open up.

For those who think their problems aren’t important enough, that just isn’t the case. If something affects a client, then it’s worth talking about. Caspar Murphy, who works at One Therapy Brighton, says, “As a therapist, I am interested in each individual who walks through the door. Often the clients who think their problems aren’t important are the ones who haven’t been listened to much in their lives. Helping them to view their thoughts and feelings as important is a crucial part of the work.”

The boundaries that therapists put in place can feel very containing for clients who worry about having too much to say or opening a can of worms. Clients are encouraged to go at their own pace, without any pressure to go into topics they are not yet ready to address. At One Therapy, we provide open-ended counselling. That means clients can come for as many months or years as they want to, so there’s no rush to talk about everything straight away. They speak to the therapist for 50 minutes once a week and they don’t have to think about their issues between sessions if they don’t feel able to.

Therapy is not always easy but it may be less difficult than you might think.

Many clients find that exploring difficult topics and sharing them with the therapist isn’t nearly as overwhelming as they expect. They also see that the therapist can hear whatever they have to say and be okay with it. This shows the client something really valuable: that they and their story are not “too much”.

As integrative therapist Amrita Athwal points out, learning about our pasts helps us make sense of the present and exploring the present sheds light on unconscious material from our pasts. With the therapist’s help, the client makes links between the two, thus understanding themselves better.

For some the worry is how they should talk. Are they allowed to swear? (Yes.) Do they need to keep a lid on their emotions? (Absolutely not.) Will they need to understand terminology like the unconscious, the ego, transference, and so on? (They won’t.) It is the therapist’s job to talk in a way that their client can understand, and there’s no need to use technical terms. Clients are free to talk however they want to talk and to use the words they would use if talking to a friend.

Finally there are those who think there is no point in talking about anything in counselling. Psychodynamic therapist, Claire Coupe, acknowledges that talking doesn’t change the past, but says it enables us to “process our feelings and understand the impact these events or experiences have had on us. It helps us to tolerate the difficult emotions we often try so hard to bury.”

Please try to put aside your worries about what to talk about. Whatever you want to say and however you want to say it is fine with us.

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

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