Debunking Counsellor Myths

Is it true that older counsellors are better because they can give life advice?

Over the time that I have been practising as a counsellor and during training, I have heard or seen first hand what some people consider a therapist/counsellor to be or offer within their service. For some people, there is an expectation that a counsellor is wise with general life knowledge, thus needing to be of an expected older age to be able to offer life experience advice and opinions. Firstly, I want to emphasise how counsellors do not offer advice or opinions for general ways to go about in life, which means being of an older age is no factor towards being a counsellor. As much as I would like to hold the title of “wisdom of life” and that there is one linear way to live peacefully, this is not the case. As far as I’m aware, the only time that a counsellor would be offering advice, would be to refer people to other professional services if appointed or suggested by the client (which may be explored) or as a matter of duty of care to a client.

What does the counsellor do?

I can understand the internal thoughts of “I am feeling so lost, I don’t know what to do, maybe a counsellor will know what I need to do and tell me”. This statement alone would suggest that someone has lost the ability to make and trust their own decisions to create change to suit their needs or wants from life and this is where counselling steps in. The idea of counselling is to help someone reclaim their decision making, to trust their gut, be able to listen to themselves and to fulfil their needs and wants from life, to work through areas in their life where it is causing mental health struggles (anxiety, depression, trauma etc) and to help echo the clients voice and feelings like they’ve never heard before so that they can in time make change and grow.

The way that the person-centred counsellor would work (person-centred being my modality) is to offer a space where you feel held, trusted, safe, experience no judgement from the counsellor, hear the genuine empathy and for the counsellor to be themselves, which essentially means for the counsellor to not act as the expert within the clients life as it ensures that the client is not “looking up to” them for the answers. With these 3 core conditions (offering no judgement, empathy and the counsellor to be themselves) is believed to be the basis for therapeutic change to happen for the client according to Carl Rogers (the pioneer of person-centred counselling).

By having those core conditions, plus listening attentively, reflecting what the client says in way that makes sense for them, offering links or patterns that the counsellor hears or sees, as well as the theory of personality including defence mechanisms, attachment theory etc etc, floating in the background of the counsellors mind, the counsellor is offering what is needed for the client to be able to freely explore their thoughts of feelings and understand themselves. Over time (which is unique to each client), the client will gain clarity of themselves, which transpires into the client creating change by trusting their own judgements, decisions and to live authentically.

How long does therapy take?

Counselling is a process and a journey for every client and there is no estimated time stamp of when you will be feeling better. In general, some people find benefits within 6-12 weeks, some may be months, some may be years or a personal choice to have regular therapy as a way to “feel lighter” or to “get it off their chest” without judgement. Taking anxiety as an example, there can be that many factors play a part within the feeling of anxiety, some of which can be derived from childhood, some may be from adulthood, “societal norms/expectations” and external factors such as opinions from significant people in your life. The exploration of anxiety may not necessarily be a direct link, for example, the anxiety is coming from X because of Y, which demonstrates that us humans are complex and can require time to figure it out. Some people do not wish to explore their anxiety and would rather have a coping strategy, which I completely understand. However, coping strategies may help ease a flare up/wave of anxiety at that moment of time of anxiety but it will be something that you will have to cope through time and time again, unless explored and unpicked.

Can any qualified counsellor be my therapist?

Finding the right counsellor for you has an immense part in therapeutic change and I want to assure that there will be someone out there that is right for you. Like in any relationship, whether it be a romantic relationship, friendship, family etc, they all require qualities that you look for in someone, which can be the same for a counsellor. Qualities that you may look for in a counsellor can be conscious or unconscious, both are normal. You want the counsellor to ideally not remind you of someone, as the last thing you want is for a therapist to remind you of a teacher (a random example) that once made you feel rubbish in class. It could be their voice, the way they look, mannerisms etc, which can throw you off in therapy. It is absolutely fine to “shop around” to find a therapist that feels right for you. Ways that you can shop around is through looking at counselling directories, websites, having consultations with different therapists, having a session or two to see how it feels (it’s okay to do this). It may even be that you had counselling in the past and you feel like you did not get much out of it, my suggestion would be to try someone else, or a different modality.

Do all counsellors “counsel” the same.

No. There are many modalities within the counselling world and as well as that, the counsellor may have their own style that they work within a modality. There are also counsellors that may pluck from other modalities where they find suitable to help their client’s needs. If you have had counselling in the past and you feel as if you did not benefit from it, I would suggest trying a new counsellor that uses a different modality. Even then, it may not be down to the modality but down to the therapeutic relationship itself.

Why is my counsellor silent, is it because they don’t know what to say?

Silence on its own is actually an important part in therapy. Silence offers the client to think, feel, reflect and process their thoughts and feelings. If the client feels awkward due to silence, this can be a starting point on what silence means for them and work/exploration can begin from there.

The funnier debunking.

Do all counsellors wear cardigans?

There are many jokes that fly around about all counsellors wearing cardigans, which is pretty funny and personally, my counsellor friends do wear them. I personally do not wear cardigans, nothing against the garment itself, it’s just not for me!

Has my counsellor actually read all their books?

If the counsellor is fortunate enough to have their own counselling room, which is accompanied by a bookshelf filled with a tonne of books, the chances are they haven’t read them all page by page. Many counsellors that I know will have read many books either towards their essays or for general knowledge. However, there are jokes inside the counselling world that we buy more books than we read!

Are counsellors the same outside of their work?

Us counsellors are humans too! We have interests, laughs, cries, friends, family and our own counsellors etc. I can only speak personally here, but the way that I talk to my friends and family is not in a “counselly way”.