Many of us, for most of the time, go through life dealing with difficulties as they arise, and managing well enough to satisfy our needs and plans. But there may be times when it all gets too much. We may feel stuck or incapable of managing in a good enough way. At times when our usual ways of coping fall short, what can we do?

For many people their first response is to turn to family, friends or colleagues for support. But what if they cannot help in the way that we need? What if we cannot talk about what we are going through because our difficulty involves them, or they get upset when hearing about our difficulty? What if we cannot make sense of what is happening to us and we cannot imagine that anyone else will be able to help? What if you feel that there is something wrong with you, or it's your fault, or you just don't want anyone else to know what's going on?

Such situations can feel quite desperate. You may try to talk to someone and feel frustrated or let down by their response. Such frustrations can compound already difficult circumstances. These are often the circumstances when people may turn to a trained counsellor for help.

What can a counsellor offer?

A competent counsellor offers you an opportunity to learn more about what is going on for you. One of the characteristics that people value in a counselling relationship is that the counsellor will not get too caught up in your concerns. You can talk about anything you choose and you don't have to be concerned about the consequences. Your counsellor can hear what you have to say and, whilst they will have their own feelings about what you share with them, they will give you enough time and space to get to grips with whatever is going on for you. This can give you a lot of freedom to talk about the most difficult areas of your life.

Your counsellor is not there to change you or criticise you, or to give you advice. What they can do is support you to get a clearer sense of yourself, help you reflect on your current ways of dealing with things, and help you develop your own ways of managing your difficulties. What can also happen through counselling is that you can become more self aware and develop a more robust and flexible sense of self. As a result, not only can you deal with existing difficulties, but you may also find more creative and satisfying ways of being.

An important aspect of the profession of counselling is that competent counsellors make themselves accountable for their work. The various professional organisations supporting counselling and psychotherapy have established standards and ethical codes that they require their members to adhere to. You may want to find out what professional organisations your counsellor belongs to. For examples of counselling codes of ethics visit the UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners or the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

One important principle is that your arrangement with your counsellor is for your benefit and in your interest. If you are not getting anything from your counselling, or you feel that your counsellor needs you to be a particular way to suit them, this situation needs to be addressed. Rather than just abandon counselling frustrated or dissatisfied, it can be very important to say something about your dissatisfactions. A good counsellor will take you seriously and talking about what happens between you and your counsellor can be a crucial part of the counselling process.


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