I occasionally pick up the FT.com magazine, which regularly features a column entitled ‘The Shrink and the Sage’ – a two-part article offering a viewpoint on a particular issue from the perspective of both a psychotherapist (Antonia Macaro) and a philosopher (Julian Baggini). One of these columns in June 2015 concerned how we choose people as our personal guides and advisors. Whilst the philosopher’s take on this concentrated more on guidance and advice in general, the psychotherapist focused on choosing a therapist and how you assess whether they are any good.
Often those who come to me for the first time are also trying out other counsellors before they decide who they want to work with on an ongoing basis. I encourage this because (as I say elsewhere on this site) one of the most important considerations when you start counselling is how comfortable you feel with your counsellor. For many this will seem obvious, but it is underlined in the article, which includes ‘a strong therapeutic relationship’ as one of the factors most important to bringing about a positive outcome.
As the article indicates, many who are considering coming for counselling will have their own preconceptions of what counselling will be like, and this is understandable. When we anticipate engaging in something we have had no previous experience of it is natural to try to imagine what it will be like for us, based on whatever bits and pieces of information we may have come across previously.
The article suggests a number of dos and don’ts, one being to do your homework first about different kinds of therapies. This sounds perfectly reasonable, but one needs to be sensible here. It is one thing to gain an outline understanding, but quite another to try to immerse oneself in the abundance of publications and research on counselling and psychotherapy – there is just too much, and don’t expect total consistency.
Antonia Macaro also adds, ‘don’t expect to be ‘fixed’’, and it’s true that counsellors don’t have a magic wand. But it is also reasonable to want to feel more empowered and embracing of your reality than before you started counselling.
Also, ‘run a mile if [your therapist] tries to impose their views on you’. This is quite right – people don’t come to counselling to be lectured. You would expect your counsellor to have a coherent set of principles but your own values should always be respected. Whilst certain personal values might be tentatively challenged if they appear to be causing conflicts for you, your counsellor should always tackle such things gently and with sensitivity.
If you want to know a bit more about counselling in general, MIND (the mental health charity) publishes a useful booklet called ‘Making Sense of Talking Treatments’ (you can pay £1 for a copy or download it free from their website). You might also want to have a look at the section of this site called ‘More about counselling’. Ultimately, an exploratory visit to a counsellor (or counsellors) is likely to be the most informative step. That way you can ask anything you like.