What is Counselling?

The BACP (British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy) definition of counselling

Counselling takes place when a counsellor sees a client in a private and confidential setting to explore a difficulty the client is having, distress they may be experiencing or perhaps their dissatisfaction with life, or loss of a sense of direction and purpose. It is always at the request of the client as no one can properly be ‘sent’ for counselling.

By listening attentively and patiently the counsellor can begin to perceive the difficulties from the client’s point of view and can help them to see things more clearly, possibly from a different perspective. Counselling is a way of enabling choice or change or of reducing confusion.  It does not involve giving advice or directing a client to take a particular course of action. Counsellors do not judge or exploit their clients in any way.

In the counselling sessions the client can explore various aspects of their life and feelings, talking about them freely and openly in a way that is rarely possible with friends or family. Bottled up feelings such as anger, anxiety, grief and embarrassment can become very intense and counselling offers an opportunity to explore them, with the possibility of making them easier to understand. The counsellor will encourage the expression of feelings and as a result of their training will be able to accept and reflect the client’s problems without becoming burdened by them.

Acceptance and respect for the client are essentials for a counsellor and, as the relationship develops, so too does trust between the counsellor and client, enabling the client to look at many aspects of their life, their relationships and themselves which they may not have considered or been able to face before. The counsellor may help the client to examine in detail the behaviour or situations which are proving troublesome and to find an area where it would be possible to initiate some change as a start. The counsellor may help the client to look at the options open to them and help them to decide the best for them.

Models of counselling

Although there is considerable consensus about the core content of a counselling course, there are nevertheless distinct methods of counselling. Most courses start from a theoretical base – typically humanistic, psychodynamic, cognitive or behavioral.

Counselling or psychotherapy?

It is not possible to make a generally accepted distinction between counselling and psychotherapy. There are well founded traditions which use the terms interchangeably and others which distinguish between them. If there are differences, then they relate more to the individual psychotherapist’s or counsellor’s training and interests and to the setting in which they work, rather than to any intrinsic difference in the two activities. A psychotherapist working in a hospital is likely to be more concerned with severe psychological disorders than with the wider range of problems about which it is appropriate to consult a counsellor. In private practice, however, a psychotherapist is more likely to accept clients whose need is less severe. Similarly, in private practice a counsellor’s work will overlap with that of a psychotherapist.  Those counsellors, however, who work for voluntary agencies or in educational settings such as schools and colleges usually concentrate more on the ‘everyday’ problems and difficulties of life than on the more severe psychological disorders. Many are qualified to offer therapeutic work which in any other context would be called psychotherapy.

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