There are obviously many different types of therapy. Counselling and psychotherapy are therapies which involve talking, usually one-to-one but sometimes in a group, with a trained therapist. There is no legal definition of counselling or psychotherapy, and no clear distinction between them. This is why it is important to choose a therapist who is registered with a membership body accredited by the Professional Standards Authority; then you can be certain he or she properly qualified and insured to practise.
How long will I need counselling?
This is very much a ‘piece of string’ question. Therapy can be short-term, to get you through a rough patch such as the breakdown of a relationship or a grievance at work; or it can be long-term, for example to deal with a traumatic incident or experience, either recent or in the distant past.
The effect of trauma
Few people get through life without some sort of traumatic experience, such as the death of a relative or friend, or a serious accident. Whilst we may be badly shaken, most of us will be able to process the emotions that come up and eventually move on. Some experience events in childhood that scar them for a very long time, such as the early loss of a parent or sibling, an erratic and unstable home life, or emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Such adverse childhood experiences can leave victims with a profound sense of insecurity. The effects of trauma can haunt sufferers for decades. They vary widely but can include panic attacks, insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares, anxiety and low mood, even suicidal thoughts. Therapists work with clients to help them untangle the emotional knots that trauma can cause.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy states that Emotional and psychological trauma can be the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, and make you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Trauma can be caused by a one-off event, such as a bad accident, a natural disaster or a violent attack. Or it can result from ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighbourhood or struggling with major health issues. Talking to a therapist could help you.
The therapeutic counselling approach
Your therapist is there to help you unravel what is causing you difficulties, to guide you as you explore your concerns. Counsellors and therapists are not here to tell you what to do, but to help you to recognise what may be holding you back, and what your options for change might be. You may become emotional, upset or angry in sessions, you may cry. This is all perfectly normal; your therapist is trained to help you process the emotions that therapy can bring out. Different therapists work in different ways that are called modalities; I am trained in Transactional Analysis, a humanistic approach that is client-led. A good therapeutic counsellor will always work at the pace that feels right for you.
The next feature will explain Transactional Analysis therapy in more detail