In my world Friday means counselling. I’ve been having counselling sessions for almost exactly two months now, and I think it’s helping. I’m not entirely sure how or why, but it feels like it is. And I suppose that’s the main thing.
This is not the first time I’ve had counselling and therapy. I’ve been through it before – with various degrees of success, I might add. So, what’s different this time? Well, one thing is that I was referred to this counsellor after having stayed for four weeks at a women’s crisis centre in April. This is different because it was a person who is used to dealing with people in crisis who thought it might be helpful for me to use this service. Secondly, and probably more importantly, I myself was more than ‘up for it’. I really wanted to do it. I had learned a lot about myself during my stay at the crisis centre, things that I may have been partly aware of, but perhaps hadn’t been ready to accept or deal with until then. One of the main things was understanding the importance of pausing and thinking “Is this good for me? Is this helpful?”. Not in a sugar – bad / fruit – good sort of way, but in terms of my emotional health. In other words “Is it helpful for me to be the emotional support for people in my life right now?”, “Is it good for me to constantly put other peoples’ needs before my own?” “Would it be better if I took a break from people in my life whose opinions and ideas I worry too much about?” No. No. Yes. Tick, tick, tack.
I was already on the infamous NHS Waiting List to undergo psychotherapy when I was offered to have a number of counselling sessions through the crisis centre. In actual fact I had been on the bleeding list since December the previous year, and was growing increasingly more frustrated by the feeling that I felt ready – well, as ready as one can feel – to really deal with my issues and at the same I was simply not able to access the services I needed. Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity to go through counselling while waiting for my name to slowly make its way up the blessed NHS list.
So, what exactly IS the difference between counselling and psychotherapy? You know what? That’s a damned good question. Ask ten counsellors and ten psychotherapists and you’re likely to get about thirty-two different answers. That is, of course, unless the therapist happens to be of the ortho-Freudian persuasion, in which case you would probably not get an answer but rather be asked “What do you think the difference between the two is? What do they represent to you?”
Looking online you’ll soon find that the various sites covering this subject also tend to have their own separate definitions. So, going back to my imagined Freudian friend, here is what I reckon the basic differences between the two are: My idea of counselling is that it tends to be a short term treatment, while psychotherapy generally takes a much longer time to undergo. This often (but, of course, not always) leads to the counselling being of a more advisory nature (ie You’re going through a divorce, how do you feel, how can you manage those feelings etc), helping you reach your own conclusions as how to manage your situation by allowing you to talk about it. As a general psychotherapy will probe a bit deeper into your way of being (You’re going through a divorce, how is it that you feel the way you do about it, is there an underlying issue here, is there a specific reason for this issue, and so on). Psychotherapy often focuses a great deal on pinpointing significant events in your early childhood and the effect that has had on your life as an adult. Although, having said that, since many counsellors also have experience in psychotherapy and vice versa the two do tend to cross paths rather frequently.
Either way, let’s get back to my counselling session. It takes place fairly early in the morning at the women’s crisis centre I was previously staying at. This is important. The place because it’s a place which in my mind I have already classified as ‘safe’, and the time because it’s at the time of day when I generally haven’t had to deal with too many extreme emotions yet. As I told D. (my counsellor) this morning when she asked how I was doing: “I don’t actually know yet.”
I think this is good. For counselling. It helps me focus on the reason why I’m there. Had the session been at the end of the day, after a long stressful day at work, for example, I think I would find it much more difficult to switch that part of me off; to talk about myself, as opposed to my job, my colleagues, my clients etc. I have an almost uncanny ability to distract and way-lead myself, and seeing D. in the morning helps, because there aren’t as many irrelevant stories to relate before moving on to more important issues. Although, I have to admit that as I am incredibly adept at side-stepping potentially explosive territories, I still manage to put a blind flyer in every once in a while before either D. or I realise what’s going on.
Today’s session went well. It felt good. We talked about a few things that I hadn’t even really thought that much about before. This is good food for thought, and usually I’ll spend the rest of the week thinking about it on and off, turning it inside out and looking at it from different angles, so that by the time the next session comes round I’ll be ready to make a comment on it and we can then decide either to explore this further or move on to other things.
At the moment my big thing is talking about my family, trying to understand how I relate to each member individually and think about what that does both to and for me. We also talk a lot about the defining moments in each of the separate relationships. What have I gained from it? What have I learned? What has been – yes – helpful and also, what has been directly harmful?
As you can imagine this is pretty hard work, and so I tend to be thoroughly wrung out at the end of the session. It’s a bit like going to an emotional gym – it takes a lot out of you, but it also leaves you with a kind of good feeling, a sense of achievement.
So, there you are. An introduction to my experience of counselling. As I said in my initial post – I’ll start out easy and possibly take a more daring plunge later on.
Stay tuned to find out!
Be good to your Selfs,