For me, counselling is not just a technical exercise to ‘fix’ things and make you feel better. It comes from a place of compassion and a wish for you to heal whatever is troubling you. I can work with all issues, but specialise in in-depth therapy, working with feelings, patterns of behaviour and relationships that are more difficult to understand and change.
If you look at any directory of counsellors and psychotherapists, you will see huge variation in what sort of therapy we offer. No single type of counselling can address all the issues that a human being can face. So, most counsellors and psychotherapists train to work in a particular way but later add other ways of working and develop their own styles.
For example, I trained first as a ‘person-centred’ counsellor and then later for five years using the ‘psychodynamic’ model. At the same time, I completed separate training in trauma-related work and went on to look at other styles also. You can find about more my training and experience here.
Below, I will explain a little about my approach to therapy today. It draws on all of these ways of working and others that I have learnt since. In doing so, I will suggest four areas to look at (#1 to #4) that might affect your choice of counsellor or psychotherapist.
#1 Find out more than just the basics
Most counsellors will set out to explain that they offer a relationship that is safe, warm, non-judgmental and confidential. Or some variation on that. This is vital, of course! You should make your own judgement as to whether or not what you read or hear sounds right for you.
However, it is good to look at more than just the basics. Try and find out more about what sort of therapy they provide. That way you can make a better judgement as to whether the way they work suits you. I will set out below some of the features of how I work. Three distinct but overlapping aspects are:
- Making use of what happens in the counselling room
- Finding and healing your hidden feelings and ways of relating
- Understanding how your past affects your present
#2 Making use of what happens in the counselling room
The therapy relationship is key
Research has repeatedly shown us that the quality of the therapy relationship an important factor in whether clients finding counselling helpful. So it is particularly important to ask: What sort of therapy relationship does/will this counsellor set up with me?
Some therapists will sit as expert, observer, commentator or analyst on what is going on for you and why it is causing you problems. In trying to help you, they place themselves largely outside of their relationship with you.
It is vital that your counsellor sets and keeps boundaries that are appropriate to the therapy relationship. But is your counsellor willing and able to let themselves be affected and impacted by you as a person? And to let you see this where it could help you to learn to relate more deeply with others? If so, their ability to share the journey of transformation you are on will give you a much more living, valid and valuable experience. It is also the ‘active ingredient’ that enables you to make some of the changes mentioned below.
Changing yourself by using the therapy relationship
Every moment we are in conversation with someone, we are continually creating a relationship based not just on the words, but many other factors too. These include subtle body language, our reading of each others emotions and our whole experience of the other person. All of this happens moment by moment and mostly outside of our conscious awareness.
This is true in counselling sessions too! We are creating a changing relationship in every moment. Is this affected by the fact that we have agreed that I will be therapist and you will be client? Yes, absolutely! (Just think about the differences between how you relate differently to the friendly shop assistant in your local shop and to your doctor.)
There are many ways we can use his relationship to your advantage. Some of these are:
- Finding, feeling and learning to express your feelings in a safe way without them overwhelming you
- Learning to manage your anxiety
- Identifying and changing the hidden patterns of how you relate to people and the world around you. (More on that below!)
Making these changes allows you to go about your day and your life more consciously and confidently. They are some of the most important things you can do in counselling.
How do you imagine other people experience you?
We are also deeply affected by how we interpret the other person as seeing us. Much of this goes on without us realising it. Crucially this might be roughly right or wildly inaccurate. Another way we can use the therapy relationship is to explore how you imagine I experience you as a person. This can tell you a lot about your self-image and your self-esteem. It can also tell you whether thinking that another person experiences you negatively holds you back in all sorts of situation and relationships.
Understanding how you imagine other people experience you can be transformative. (You might have to read that twice!)
The sort of therapy that your counsellor provides makes a difference as to whether they can work with you on how you imagine other people experience you.
#3 Healing hidden feelings and patterns
If we could easily see and address all of our feelings and thinking patterns for ourselves, we would probably need less therapy. But it is often quite difficult! While the surface behaviours are visible, the underlying causes are often hidden. Let’s start with an easy example.
You are probably familiar withe idea of a ‘blind spot’. Imagine this.
Over a few weeks, employees begin to complain about how harshly you are speaking to them about work issues. You think their work is poor and they deserve to be told. On reflecting further, maybe with help from colleagues, you realise you are super-stressed and scared of losing your job. As a result, you are putting a lot of stress on your team and have become over-critical and unfair.
Using feedback from colleagues, you realise you had a blind spot about how you were treating people. Now you can start to put things right for both your employees and yourself. If you cannot find the help you need from people around you, then helping you with scenarios and relationships like this (home, work, school, etc.) is a basic function of counselling. But counselling can go much further.
What is buried deeper in the mind?
What if you have a pattern that you repeat over and over that makes no sense? For example, every time you start to feel comfortable in a relationship you start an argument or throw a tantrum. Or you are superbly prepared for an interview, but at the last minute order another coffee and don’t show up. This happens repeatedly but you have no idea why. The best advice from family and friends sounds right. But nothing actually works.
Self-sabotage like this is just one type of scenario that suggests there is a hidden emotional or belief pattern driving your actions. Such patterns get pushed out of our awareness because the associated anxiety or emotions are too great to tolerate. Indeed, they are so deeply buried that we don’t know they are there. That makes it hard to find and resolve them like we can with a blind spot. These are called ‘unconscious’ patterns.
Uncovering the unconscious in counselling
Unconscious patterns crop up frequently in counselling. They are often a frustrating or distressing block to personal growth. The same can be said of unconscious emotions or beliefs that you are holding onto but are not aware of.
What sort of therapy approach does your counsellor take? Some counsellors choose to work only with what is visible in the room and what you can already tell them about what happens in your life. My approach is different.
It is central to my approach to help you become consciously aware of your hidden anxieties, emotions and patterns of relating. As they weaken or dissolve, we can work on growth in the areas that felt blocked.
Sometimes these patterns are explained in terms of states, modes, scripts or schemas. There a lots of different ways of describing them. (I will write more about these at another time. Meanwhile please free to ask me about them.) The important thing, though, is to be able to find and resolve the ones that are hidden or unconscious, as well as the the more surface ones.
#4 How does your past affect your present?
There is plenty of evidence that the way our parents and carers bring us up has a huge impact on our development. That includes our personality traits, ability to manage our feelings and anxieties, and the many small ways that make up how we relate to other people.
Certain events may also have a big impact on you such as bullying, domestic violence, being left alone, losing a family member, severe accidents and many other things. The same is true of anything that felt frightening or humiliating, especially if it happened repeatedly. Being neglected, abused or exploited may leave some form of trauma.
What sort of therapy do you need? Would it help to talk about your past history or childhood experiences and how these have affected you? This can feel quite difficult at first, but often turns out to be one of the most healing aspects of counselling. Please feel free to talk to me about any of this. (I will also try and add more information here in future).
You can, if you wish, talk about your past experiences in therapy. We do this only to understand how they have shaped you in the present day. This can help you to change and heal whatever is troubling you, so that you can live a happier life in future.
Please feel free to contact me if you think therapy may help.
© Copyright, Julian Mauger 2019
Photo by Cata.