The way we look at today’s talking therapies has changed considerably over the years. Much of this has to do with the availability of published data on the high percentage of people who, at some time or another, have sought psychological help. I suspect also that a good many instances remain unreported. Much of the stigma of earlier times around counselling and psychotherapy has been replaced by greater knowledge and understanding. Also, as well as offering help to those with more deep rooted issues, therapy is now being seen as a way to get or keep ‘fit’ psychologically rather than indicating that something must be ‘wrong’ with someone.
So, just as your GP, for example, will at some time need to see a doctor for his or her personal health issues, likewise with dentists, etc., so counsellors and psychotherapists may at times have reason to see a therapist of their own. After all, therapists are human too. Also, it is obviously important for their clients that therapists keep themselves in good shape psychologically. Research indicates that there is a significant positive correlation between the psychological wellbeing of therapists and the success of their work with their clients (as one would expect).
Most reputable educational programmes for therapists encourage trainees to undertake personal therapy at some time during their years of training, and to do this for a minimum period of time. Some programmes insist on it. Also, this isn’t just about getting support in order to explore any personal issues. It must make sense that therapists experience for themselves what it is like to sit in the client’s chair. This experience can only help further develop the therapist’s empathy and awareness, refining the counsellor’s ability to see things from their future clients’ frame of reference.
Professor of Counselling at the University of Strathclyde, Mick Cooper, in his comprehensive ‘Essential Research Findings in Counselling and Psychotherapy’, identified that 80% of psychotherapists had had or were currently engaged in their own psychotherapy. He also uncovered that they tended ‘to identify psychotherapy as one of their most important developmental experiences’ and that 90% of them regarded it as helpful for a range of different reasons, from better self-care to being clearer about the nature of their own personal feelings.
A caveat should be added here. No matter how much one tries to finesse the research in this field, much of it has to be fairly broad brush in its approach. But whatever level of accuracy there is in the research about the usefulness of counselling to counsellors, there does seem to be irrefutable evidence that, both directly and indirectly, and for therapists and clients alike, counselling can help.