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What stops people from seeking counselling?

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

walking by the sea
Woman by the sea

Seeing a counsellor could be the most important thing you ever do to take care of yourself - yet many people avoid therapy due to the stigma around seeking professional help. There is a myth in our society that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, or that you will be seen as a failure for admitting to being unhappy. These misconceptions are kept alive by inaccurate portrayals of counsellors in the media; therapy in movies and TV shows is often depicted in an-over-the-top manner, no doubt for the sake of dramatic or comedic purposes.

A common stereotype is that of a vulnerable-looking patient lying on the ‘shrink’s’ couch whilst the inscrutable analyst scribbles in a notebook. This type of Freudian analysis (which has its uses) is less commonly practised that other forms of psychotherapy and counselling. Most counselling consists of sitting with the counsellor, or communicating online or on the phone, and engaging in talking therapy at a pace you can cope with.

The mysterious work of counselling

One reason that people avoid counselling is that they’re afraid of opening up to a stranger. They might feel intimidated or threatened by the mysterious role of the counsellor, believing they are handing over control of their mind or that, once they start exploring their problems, they might become overwhelmed by emotion or memories. Others are scared of finding out that there’s something wrong with them. In reality, you will talk about what you are ready to talk about, and you should not be pushed to go any further. If you seem to be hovering between being open and keeping your guard up, a good therapist will sense this and encourage you to take a risk – but they won’t push you.

Also, a good counsellor will have an idea of how apprehensive you might be feeling when you pluck up your courage to get in touch. It’s a good idea, when you contact a counsellor, to ask a few questions – find out how he or she works. If you feel nervous about the process, explain how you are feeling so your counsellor can provide reassuring information about what will happen.

Counsellors rarely give advice – they are not the judge of what’s best for you and they don’t have all the answers. Instead, they will support you while you explore what’s best for you – ultimately it’s your life and no one can tell you how to live it. Counselling helps people make sense of their thoughts and feelings – if you are experiencing difficulties in your relationships for instance, your counsellor might offer a different perspective, another way of looking at things. This gives you a chance to see how you might be limiting yourself, perhaps by feeling guilty about something when you’re not to blame, or figuring out how you get stuck in a frustrating pattern of behaviour or certain relationships. You might then want to experiment with new ways of dealing with situations – you can work these out in collaboration with your counsellor.

Healing is not always pain-free

Healing from mental and emotional pain is not always comfortable, just as recovering from physical illness is not always pain-free – but if you experience difficult feelings in counselling you can be encouraged by the fact that you are working towards a positive outcome. The counselling process helps you develop new skills, improve relationships and build confidence.

The importance of a good working relationship

Counselling works best when there is a good relationship between client and therapist.

It’s important that you find a professional who feels ‘right’ for you. This might be based on your feeling that the counsellor is not judging you, that they give you a warm, respectful welcome and help put you at ease, and that you feel they are really listening to you.

The next step is letting the counsellor know why you are looking for help – what do you want to get from counselling? Once the counsellor understands your goals, he or she will help you stay focused on what it is you hope to achieve. Some client aren’t sure at first what they want – that’s okay too. It might take a couple of sessions for you and the counsellor to pinpoint what the problem is and to develop an idea of the kind of solution you’re looking for. The counsellor will suggest the number of sessions they recommend for you and should help you review your progress regularly, including preparing for the end of counselling.

As you develop a trusting relationship it will become easier for you talk honestly about yourself. And as confidence and trust grows, you might find other issues that you’d like to work on – you can then agree whether to continue with more sessions.

There’s no shame in seeking help because you feel depressed, or sad, or lonely. There’s no need to suffer in silence - it’s healthy and natural to want to feel better.

Nicky Adams

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