I have been attending counselling for around six weeks and have recently been looking back on my experience so far. When Sarah asked me to write a guest post on the subject, it was perfectly in line with my current state of reflection.
As always, I want to give a balanced view so that anyone who might be considering counselling can make an informed decision.
I’m going to get the cons out of the way first. If you’re a reader of my blog, you’ll know I like to end on a high, so we’ll finish with the good bits.
Con number 1 – The waiting lists are SO long.
Now, thankfully, I didn’t fall victim to this particular con, but that’s only because I’m not working and could attend an appointment whenever it came up. The process – from making an enquiry to my first appointment – took around six weeks, which is considerably quicker than most cases.
Depending on where you are in the country, waiting lists can be much longer, and it can take several months before you are seen. Personally, I hate anything where a location lottery is at play, even if it worked in my advantage. I think people should be able to access the help they need regardless of where they live but I imagine most people reading this are aware of how terribly underfunded the services are, and it’s probably a rant for another time.
Con number 2 – It’s hard to know what to say.
This applies in two ways. The first is that expressing your feelings can be difficult. I am a much better writer than I am a speaker and discussing my feelings through speech is uncomfortable. There are times when I’ve found myself staring into space, desperately trying to figure out how to say what I need to say. A way to combat this is to make notes, particularly before your first appointment.
Also, now I’m starting to get into a better place, more recent appointments have been tricky to navigate. I don’t feel as though I have anything to say, which suggests a huge improvement, but makes me feel like I’m wasting their time. As my moods are still inconsistent, myself and the counsellor are reluctant to end the sessions just yet, but I feel they may draw to a close in a few weeks.
Con number 3 – It’s emotionally draining.
When I came out of my first appointment, I felt empty and exhausted. I headed back to my flat and just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It’s likely you’ll have a moment where you think “I thought this was supposed to help but I feel TERRIBLE.” In the immediate aftermath, you don’t necessarily feel the benefit of relief.
If you’ve got past con number 2 and been comfortable enough to open up, then it’s likely you’ve given a lot of yourself up to your counsellor. It could even be that you cry (which, by the way, is absolutely fine and happens a lot!). I’d recommend heading for a nap, if you can.
Con number 4 – There’s no support in between appointments.
Unfortunately, counsellors only have set time slots which can be allocated to clients. Mine last 50 minutes and are once a week. When the 50 minutes are up, I’m off back into the world, sometimes feeling vulnerable and unsteady.
For the most part, this hasn’t been a huge flaw for me, but I think if you are tackling particularly troubling issues, it’s easy to see how this system lets you down. I think, in some places, the wait between appointments can be longer than a week as well, which only makes it harder.
Onto the pros!
Pro number 1 – Counselling is a good outlet.
When you get past the weird feeling of discussing your feelings, it’s a wonderful space to be able to offload your emotions. Particularly at the beginning of my counselling journey, I would turn up to my appointments and spend 50 minutes rambling and rarely stopping for breath.
You do eventually feel lighter. As I said, it doesn’t necessarily happen straight away, but once the exhaustion subsides, it’s replaced by relief. A lot of the weight which you’ve been carrying the burden of is reduced because you’ve shared it with somebody else.
Pro number 2 – It strengthens your relationships.
A surprising plus point of counselling for me is how it has helped my relationships with others. Counselling forced me to address demons from my past, and in doing so, put me in a place where I felt comfortable to share my untold secrets with my loved ones.
While it may not be true in every case, I certainly discovered that it made me see the benefits of talking, which encouraged me to practice it elsewhere. Holding everything in had caused me a lot of trouble. Now, I feel as though I don’t hold as much back.
With my boyfriend, for example, I feel able to tell him when my anxiety is high, or when something is troubling me. This communication has only made us closer, because it means I’m not dealing with everything alone, and he has a better understanding of where I’m at.
Pro number 3 – You can discuss your problems with a stranger.
For me, this is the biggest benefit. I am blessed with a wonderful partner, brilliant family and a handful of incredible friends, but there are still things I wouldn’t want to discuss with them – or, rather, I wasn’t quite ready to tell them.
Being able to talk about your life to somebody who isn’t involved in it is very freeing. It enables you to get an unbiased opinion about your situation. You can say whatever you want, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no risk of their feelings being hurt. You can express things which might cause your family to be concerned or cause a fuss.
The person you discuss these with has chosen to be a counsellor because they want to help people. They are paid and trained to handle the situation. There seems to be very little which shocks my counsellor, too, which I appreciate. I can talk openly about my experiences, and she just listens.
Pro number 4 – They validate your feelings.
Although your loved ones may want to support you, if they have no experience of dealing with mental health issues previously, it can be hard for them to do that. They might accidentally say hurtful things in their attempts to make you feel better.
Counsellors will acknowledge your feelings and will do their best to help you get through it. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “why am I finding this so hard?”, as I often have, it’s reassuring to have somebody tell you it’s okay to feel that way, but it’s important to overcome it, and then provide guidance on how to do so.
Pro number 5 – Your counsellor puts things in perspective.
Once they’ve listened to your feelings, they then begin trying to present you with an alternative view. My counsellor is excellent at providing me with a different approach. Sometimes, it’s things other people have tried to tell me, but I thought they were being nice. Other times, it’s something I never would have thought of. And, occasionally, it’s a little dose of reality which I desperately needed.
There was one occasion where her input was incredibly important. I had had an issue in my family just before my appointment. I turned up and burst into tears. Once we sat down, I began telling her what had happened, and saying how I just didn’t understand it. She made some suggestions as to why the situation may have occurred and helped me to identify why I had taken it so hard. Gaining that clarity about my feelings meant I could process them and decide a suitable course of action.
When it comes to anxiety, I think a lot of us struggle with the battle between rational and irrational thoughts. I know nobody is really paying attention to what I look like, but I’m still taken over by the fear that everyone is staring at me. Having someone who will tell you the facts in a straightforward way can be a little hard to swallow at first, but it does sink in.
In conclusion, I do think counselling is beneficial, despite its flaws. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. For me, it took me out of the dark corner of my mind where I’d taken up residence. It’s equipped me with tools and ways to identify negative thought processes, so I can stop them. I wasn’t sure about it all at first, but now I would recommend trying it if you can.
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