Common questions about seeking counselling therapy

Are you contemplating counselling therapy but unsure of what to expect? Here are answers to five common questions about seeking counselling

Counsellor with client in counselling therapy

Even when going through a challenging phase in life, many people are hesitant to seek counselling therapy because they are not sure of what to expect from it. Due to this, they miss out on the clarity and support they might have received when they needed it the most.

Here are five common questions people have about seeing a counselor.

Why do I need counselling therapy?

We, each of us, have individuals temperaments, life experiences and emotional thresholds, so there is no single formula to decide when to seek therapy. But what we can say in general is that whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by a certain situation—failure, grief, loss, sickness—you might consider seeking counselling therapy.

Why can’t I just talk to my family and friends instead?”, I hear you asking. Indeed you can; not everyone needs to seek professional counselling for their situation. Close friends and family are a sturdy sounding board and their support helps through many a life situations. But you must keep in mind that people known to you will tend to relate with you from their own filters; plus, they will also approach the situation based on their past experiences with you. If these people are a part of your current problem situation, their biases will be a part of the solution or advice they offer to you. A therapist, on the other hand, is trained to look at, and provide, an unbiased view of the situation.

Can a counselor solve my problem?

To correct a widespread misconception, counselling is not about providing solutions to one’s problem. The job of a therapist is to assist and enable a counsellee to view the situation from a rational viewpoint and alter thoughts and emotions that cloud or impede such rationality. Don’t expect your therapist to alter the external situation—often that is imposisble. However, what a competent therapist will do is assist you in changing your internal thought process. The process of counselling is always driven by the counsellee with the counsellor assisting in providing structure, exercise and guidance only.

Can a counselor make difficult decisions for me?

Another life situation that may warrant counselling therapy is when you find yourself at a cross road in life. Certain decisions seem too daunting to make and appear to have huge emotional, physical, financial and social considerations. You may feel that you just can’t afford to go wrong. Such situations generally occur with young individuals where experience is limited, and risks seem much bigger than they actually are. Procrastination, avoidance and self-doubt are the most natural by-products. While a therapist is not a solution provider, s/he can help you rationalise the process of decision-making and make the most informed choice, with the awareness and readiness to take in stride the expected or unexpected consequences.

Can a counselor help to deal with physical conditions too?

Yes. There are physical or medical health conditions that may warrant counselling support. Chronic health issues and life threatening diseases undoubtedly take a toll on one’s emotional, mental and social health. Counselling therapy helps the counsellee by building resilience and offering fresh and different perspectives about disease and pain.

Not only the patient but the caregiver too may feel the need for emotional support. Take the example of cancer; while medical management is required to treat the disease, counselling helps the patient and family members deal with the fear, anxiety and depression that accompanies the prognosis. A mother, whose child is battling cancer, or an aged spouse accompanying every dialysis cycle, often suffer in silence and experience burnout. These caregivers need the same amount of emotional and mental support to get through the struggle as the patient.

What to expect in a typical counselling session?

  • Typically, the first session or two are spent in establishing a rapport between the therapist and the counsellee. This may vary from a single session in case of a responsive counsellee to several sessions, like in case of children or reluctant individuals.
  • Early sessions are about the counsellee picking up on the most obvious problem or issue to be dealt with and through this, both the counsellor and counsellee explore the underlying irrational thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours of the counselee. This is important because the end result is not just a solution to the existing problem but an empowered rational individual.
  • One needs to keep in mind that, in most cases, counselling therapy targets the internal change in a counsellee even if the issue seems external because that is the only variable under control. So, if you are seeking counselling to bring about a change in people and situations around you, you are likely to be disappointed. Counselling works to alter the way you view and deal with the difficult situation.
  • The duration of the counselling therapy depends upon several factors
    • Responsiveness of the counsellee
    • Ability of the counsellor to invoke trust in this association
    • Readiness to put in work to find the desired result
    • And lastly, the ability to accept what needs to be changed and what cannot be changed [I teach all my counsellees to recite the serenity prayer before every session as part of this acceptance]

To conclude, the complex nature of modern life casts a doubt over our ability to manage and move through life happily and peacefully. It is when life seems unbearable or too complex that counselling support provides the much-needed perspectives.

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Bhavana Gautam
Dr Bhavana Gautam, MBBS, is a holistic wellness consultant, certified counselor, psychotherapist and life coach, incorporating a multi-pronged approach to achieving physical, emotional and mental wellness. With a vast experience working with corporates and educational institutions, her main focus area of counselling remains adolescent counselling, women's counselling and care giver counselling.

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