For many people, the first question when reading this website will be, ‘Is counselling or psychotherapy for me? Will it help?’ The aim of this article is to address what therapy is like and what it can offer.
We all know that life can be difficult. As well as events that everyone is subject to – illness, bereavement, conflict – many people struggle with aspects of their lives which appear to be intractable. The most common of these issues appear as patterns in the person’s life, and typically arise as questions in the therapy room:
‘Why do I have so much anxiety and panic?’
‘Why do I keep having relationship issues and family issues?’
‘Will I ever be rid of this depression?’
‘I am tired of feeling sad. Will I ever be really happy?’
‘Will I ever be over this bereavement?’
‘Will I ever be over these affairs and betrayals?’
‘Why do I have such low self-esteem and low self-confidence?’
‘Why am I so often angry? How do I manage my anger?’
The aim of this article, then, is to answer the foundational questions: Is counselling or psychotherapy for me? What can it offer me? I first want to give reassurance: the basis of counselling and psychotherapy is non-judgemental safety and support, care and compassion.
Counselling and psychotherapy
There is no universally-agreed difference between counselling and psychotherapy, and indeed they are sometimes used interchangeably, while others wish to make a clear distinction between the two. I find it helpful to distinguish them in this way: counselling is short-term and issue-based, such as wanting to work on confidence to be able to drive again after an illness or an accident; whereas psychotherapy is medium to long-term and personality-based, such as finding it difficult to trust anyone, or finding the cause and remedy of low self-esteem. Defined in this way, psychotherapy is for more deep-rooted issues and thus, in academic terms, psychotherapists are more highly qualified than counsellors.
Why see a therapist?
Many people have someone they can confide in more than others – a special friend, a close parent or relative, a spouse. Even so, there are some things that are difficult to tell even those closest to us, out of embarrassment, or shame, or simply not knowing how to express it. Even if talking to this special person is possible, their very closeness can serve to hide wider truths, or that closeness can be a reason not to tell them: ‘How can I reveal this and then face them afterwards?’ And some people aren’t so lucky that they have a special confidante.
This is one reason why the therapist’s foundation of non-judgemental support and care is so important, and can be such a new experience. The therapist is not in the rest of the client’s life, and this has several important advantages:
- The client knows that anything said is in strict confidence, and will not leak into other parts of their life.
- Busy lives often prevent really getting to the heart of the issue. The therapy session is a privileged time out, a space apart to focus.
- This means the client can be more open and honest, and thus we can work together on getting to the roots of the problem, giving a greater sense of direction towards resolution.
There are other reasons why seeing a therapist can be so valuable. Therapists are professionally trained in ways of thinking and perceiving, in frameworks designed to reach the heart of the issue. I am an integrative therapist, which means I take the most helpful aspects of a range of therapeutic perspectives, as most appropriate at a given time with an individual client. This guides me in the questions I ask, in the focus of my enquiry, and what I may notice about the way you tell your story. At the root is my fundamental respect for the individuality of every person. This means we will work together on uncovering the meaning you give to your story, with your emotions and feelings just as important as your thoughts. Because they are familiar, our own emotional and cognitive processes are usually hidden from us. Resolution comes through greater self-understanding, enabling greater choice and control over our life. Once uncovered, what was previously unrecognised or denied can be seen, worked with, and new ways of being and living become possible.
How long is therapy?
No two people are completely alike, and therefore the therapy process is always moulded by the needs of the client. For this reason, good therapy has to be a bespoke service. The number of sessions depends on the needs of the individual and the depth at which they are able to work. Some clients come for a number of weeks, and others for a number of years. When therapy is coming to a natural end, it is always obvious to both client and therapist. The nature of the sessions changes, and the issues that were first brought have reached a point of resolution: the client is not the same as when s/he first arrived.
So is counselling or psychotherapy for me?
Often, clients who see me have tried to resolve their problems in other ways, through reading books, or trying to think themselves out of their problems, or speaking to friends, and they find it hasn’t worked. There are good reasons for this: change requires unconditional support, and for this there has to be a human relationship which allows you to grow, requiring nothing in return. Books and thinking alone cannot provide this, and even the best of friends naturally have needs and agendas of their own. A good therapist can provide a safe relationship of unconditional support.
Some clients have already tried avoidance tactics, burying themselves in work, alcohol, sex, or spending sprees. But these activities only mask the underlying problem. A good therapist can provide the support needed to face the fear, to approach problems rather than hiding from them.
My aim, then, is to offer what all the research and evidence says works: the safety of a therapeutic space and, most importantly, the foundation of a therapeutic relationship built on mutual trust and your best interests, meeting the needs that you bring, with care and compassion.
About Ian Pittaway
Ian is a psychotherapist and writer with a private practice in Stourbridge, West Midlands. Ian’s psychotherapy is integrative, chiefly comprising key elements of transactional analysis, object relations, attachment research and person centred therapy. Ian has a special interest in trauma recovery and bereavement.
To contact Ian, call 07504 269 855 or click here.
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