About Counselling and Psychotherapy
Psychotherapists and counsellors practise a "talking cure" - which means that you talk and they listen. Sessions are generally yours to use as you wish, but from time to time the therapist will reflect your story back in a way that helps to make sense of what's going on. They may make connections between different parts of your story, offer you perspectives that you may not have considered, encourage you gently to explore issues a bit more deeply, and perhaps suggest things to think about when you leave the session.
There's not much difference between psychotherapy and counselling, though psychotherapy training courses are longer and more rigorous. In practice, the term "counselling" tends to be used for more problem-focused work, while "psychotherapy" is more likely to be used where the emphasis is more on an individual's inner world. Clients often come to counselling to deal with particular problems but continue their explorations as a way of making their lives richer and more meaningful.
There are literally hundreds of different theories and trainings, but research suggests that the quality of the relationship that client and therapist can build between them is more important than the type of therapy. Nevertheless, some types of therapy work better for particular problems than others, and some clients are able to engage better with some types of approach than others. Recently I have become interested in memory reconsolidation, which is not an approach but a process. In the last two or three decades, researchers have tried to identify the really effective elements in therapy and square them with emerging findings from neuroscience. Their findings suggest these elements occur in many traditional therapies, though not in behavioural techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I am trying to maximise the use of memory reconsolidation in my practice and am getting good results.
You don't necessarily need to know anything about the different approaches to therapy before choosing a therapist or counsellor. However, if you do want to understand a bit about the different approaches and in particular want to see how my own approach - integrative and transpersonal - fits in, the section entitled What Type of Therapy Should I Choose? gives a bit more information.
Counselling and therapy do work, and millions of people have benefited from them. They make conscious the forces and potentials that lie within us and help to lay old concerns and issues to rest. Many people see the process as helping the mind realise a natural potential to be well and happy. However, to work well the process takes time, commitment, energy and courage. Those who make most use of therapy are those who see it not so much as a treatment, or something done to them, but as a journey or a process for which they are fully responsible, with the therapist as facilitator and guide.
Working with a therapist is a bit like employing a guide to help you through unexplored country. A therapist can help you along the way but it is still your territory and you stay in charge of the journey.
Lastly, a word about couples counselling. Couples work feels quite different from individual counselling. It is rather more oriented to immediate problem-solving. I sometimes adapt a quotation that was originally written about war: "Everything in relationships is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult." Obviously it helps to have an understanding of the deep forces at work within a relationship, and sometimes it is possible to work with them, but more often than not the task is to sort out how a couple communicate with each other and how they each express their needs. Sadly, many couples leave it too late, and the work then is more about minimising the pain of separation than about staying together. Sometimes one party won't admit there is a problem and that the relationship needs help until the other is half-way through the door. Putting a couple back on track is hard work that needs strength and restraint from both parties, and a commitment to work in counselling for at least a few months.
Wife, let us live as we have always lived, and let us keep the names we first whispered in our wedding bed. Let old age never cause us to forget that I am still your boy and you my girl.
- Ausonius, c. 350 AD