I’m becoming increasingly amazed and recently annoyed at the tone of a lot of counsellors’ advertising. Just today I’ve read that “Thinking is something we all do every day,” “It’s our choice every moment to be Joyful, sad, fearful or angry,” “Smiling is a great antidote to the current economic climate,” and “Do these three things for absolute freedom.”
Presumably these counsellors, and the many like them who churn out this appalling nonsense, must believe clients are idiots. That or they’re utterly untouched by the kinds of experiences that the rest of us are increasingly immersed in. Smiling will not help you if you are under 25 and your housing benefit is apparently under threat. How much choice do you have in your emotions when your husband has just died, or you’ve been made redundant or your child has been diagnosed with something worrying? Just what is absolute freedom? Indeed, we all do think every day but I do wonder about the quality of some of those thoughts.
When we’re vulnerable we all want to be contained and seek advice but it seems an increasing number of counsellors are setting themselves up as Guru figures that can cure people. This is absolutely the antithesis of what you should expect from counselling.
A good counsellor will offer you a space in which you can feel safe and will interact with you so that you discover your own answers which may occasionally be found via tentatively offered suggestions. But this is very different from offering a cure, especially if you’re not at all ill. Imagine the DWP has accidentally closed your claim: you’re entitled to panic, rage, despair, fear and contempt as you struggle to reinstate your claim whilst having not a penny for food or the electric. A counsellor who wants you to look on the bright side is clearly very frightened of their own rage and panic.
I invite you to approach any counsellor who presents themselves as wiser than you with great caution. Please bear in mind that no one has discovered a foolproof cure for the fear of spiders so more complex psychological distress can only be approached cautiously and with questions rather than answers. It’s natural that you’ll want to be vulnerable with your counsellor and even collapse for 50 minutes a week, but you can also expect to be treated as an equal: it’s the absolute foundation of all the modern psychological models, and you should expect your counsellor to say that explicitly. This holds true whether you’re 4 or 94, you’re entitled to very respectful listening and relating. You’re paying for it.
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