Thriving with Counselingby Nicola on 2013-05-03
The Benefits of Counseling
By Dr Nicola J Davies
The inevitable pressures of modern living often prompt individuals to seek professional counseling. This isn’t because they feel they are going mad, or that anything is seriously wrong with them, but because it is one of the most effective and wholesome ways to learn how to regain a sense of control over what we think, feel and do when faced with challenges. It is for this reason that the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is carrying out feasibility studies to introduce counseling to the Nunavut (Kugluktuk) community. This article sheds more light on counseling and its benefits.
What is Counseling?
Counseling involves purposeful conversation between a professional counselor and one or more clients, for the benefit of the latter. Counselors are trained in the use of psychological knowledge and theories about human functioning and relationships to assist clients with personal challenges and to help them overcome these challenges. Clients are mostly well-adjusted individuals seeking help for various reasons related to everyday living.
The ultimate aim of counseling is to empower the client. Over time, clients learn to understand themselves better by gaining insight into the motivating factors behind some of their actions. Since counseling can be equated with a journey of self-discovery, the result is that confused, uncertain, or troubled individuals develop the potential to make better decisions so that they can begin to design a positive life for themselves.
Many people go for counseling because they are unhappy about some aspect of their life. In addition, the advice and suggestions of friends, family and others does not always have the desired outcomes. Few people decide to see a counselor because they are 'mad' or suffering from severe emotional disorders. Indeed, some of the issues which prompt individuals to seek counseling include:
- Low self-esteem
- Career advice
- Marriage guidance
- Educational concerns
- To find meaning in life
Counselors are trained to help people with a variety of problems and challenges, and will refer those needing more specialized help to the appropriate professional if the need arises.
How does Counseling Work?
What happens during counseling depends a lot on the counselor's theoretical training and experience, as well as the specific issues the client presents. However, irrespective of the theoretical model the counselor adopts, most counseling sessions will include the following components.
Clients are expected to do most of the talking, sharing reasons for why they sought help, and providing any necessary information related the problem. Counselors tend to ask questions to get more information about the issue and about the client's circumstances and life in general. The process is bound to be difficult, especially when clients share personal information that they ordinarily find hard to talk about; these might involve fears, feelings of hatred, guilt, shame or disappointment. Clients who ultimately benefit from counseling are those who are open, honest, and committed to the process, as challenging as it might be at times. This also means attending scheduled appointments regularly.
What a client can expect from a counselor is the latter's undivided attention and sincere interest in what they have to say. Counselors also offer clients a relaxed, safe environment of support, encouragement and hope. Often, the counselor's skillful questions, observations, and empathic listening is enough to make clients feel relieved and hopeful.
Another important element of the counseling process is confidentiality. Clients have permission to express whatever thoughts and feelings they wish in the secure and confidential environment of the counseling session, without having to fear that personal information will be shared with others. In instances where it is important to the counseling process that information about the client has to be shared with others – for example, when family members have to be alerted to a client's suicidal thoughts – counselors will obtain the client's permission first, and provide reasons why it might be necessary to share some information with relevant outside parties.
What are the Benefits of Counseling?
Most clients experience counseling as a vehicle through which they gain new insights and fresh perspectives on their lives. One of the major reasons people seek counseling is because it is easy to become emotionally stuck in a troublesome situation, not knowing how to overcome challenging circumstances, and feeling completely helpless as a consequence. Here are a list of advantages clients could gain from seeing a counselor:
- Relief of symptoms. Speaking to someone with an empathic ear, the desire to understand one's situation, and the readiness to offer guidance and help can in itself bring tremendous temporary relief
- Trust, emotional support, and encouragement. Finding someone in whom you can have complete trust with private and confidential issues is not always easy. Often the lack of understanding and emotional support from others keep us stuck in problematic situations
- Boost in confidence and self-esteem. Counseling, in essence, serves to empower clients to develop their own solutions to their problems. As the process continues, the developing insights and clear sense of personal strengths and potential to make positive changes grow progressively.
- Learning new skills. Clients learn how to better understand and control wayward emotions and impulses that might have previously gotten them into trouble. Conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, mindfulness, learning about the impact of non-verbal communication, and how to monitor negative self-talk are some examples of new skills counselors can teach clients.
- Sense of control. The feeling that we are losing control over the direction of our lives, or how to better manage stressful situations, are what often drives people to seek professional help. Counseling can restore the sense that we can exert sufficient control over how we interpret and experience life, thereby giving us more influence over what we feel and how we act.
- Greater fulfillment. When clients begin to better manage daily or stressful challenges, they begin to live more creatively, and experience life and its challenges with more ease, acceptance, and fulfillment.
Photo courtesy of David Ho.
What are the Main Types of Counseling and their Advantages?
There are a diverse range of counseling approaches available, with these being the most frequently utilized:
Behavioral and cognitive-behavioral counseling: Clients learn how the immediate environment assists them in creating and maintaining positive and negative habits. Clients learn strategies for unlearning bad habits, such as drinking, smoking, gambling, compulsive lying, etc., as well as how to replace them with more wholesome ones.
Client-centered counseling: Clients learn about the value of being open to life and its manifold experiences, as well as about the healing power of unconditional acceptance of the self and others. Moreover, many clients delight in discovering the immense potential inside themselves for transforming their lives from the ordinary to the magnificent.
Psychodynamic counseling: Clients learn to discover the hidden motives behind their seemingly irrational fears, fantasies, emotions and actions. The insights clients gain into their own personalities can be liberating, and often serves as a motive for making the desired changes.
Whatever the problem and whoever the person, there is an appropriate style of counseling available.
Korhonen, M. (2004). Heloing Inuit clients: cultural relevance and effective counseling. Circumpolar Health 2003 • Nuuk, 135-138.
Wihak, C. and Merali, N. (2007). Culturally Sensitive Counselling in Nunavut: Implications of Inuit Traditional Knowledge. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy / Revue canadienne de counseling et de psychothérapie, North America, 37, Available at: <http://cjc-rcc.ucalgary.ca/cjc/index.php/rcc/article/view/238>. Date accessed: 03 May. 2013.
See the Services page of this website: http://www.healthykugluktuk.ca/index.php?p=1_3_Services
Theravive - a network of independent counselors and clinics throughout North America whose therapists provide counselling and resources to individuals, couples, and families: http://www.theravive.com/counselor-directory.htm.
Dr Nicola Davies is a Psychology Consultant and Freelance Writer with an interest in health and well-being. Her publications can be viewed at www.healthpsychologyconsultancy.com. Alternatively, you might like to sign up to her free blog: http://healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com/