You might want counselling for many different reasons.
You may have a clear problem, and are looking for equally clear help. Examples of this might be a drink problem, or something else that feels compulsive or addictive; or indecision around moving jobs or moving home.
Or you might be having difficulties with friends, relatives, a partner or children; you may be feeling anxious about an exam or a new job or a new relationship; you could be depressed or worried, without being sure why. You are looking for answers.
On the other hand, you may not be able to identify anything in particular; just a sense that something isn’t quite right, and a feeling that you are missing out on something, or can’t make sense of your life.
What can I offer you ?
A safe place to talk and to be listened to.
You may have heard this phrase before and wondered how this could help you. It might sound depressingly wishy-washy and vague.
My own experience has been that my life changed once I found someone who would listen to me. For more than twenty years I had been plagued by addiction, loneliness and depression, and had tried desperately to find answers.
I was bewildered; I often talked complete nonsense. And I found someone who was prepared to listen without judging or dismissing me, and who could help me to make sense of my thoughts and feelings.
How does this work?
For an hour you talk, and I listen. Sometimes we might have what feels like a fairly normal conversation, and sometimes it might feel like the sort of conversation you have never had with anyone else.
For an hour each week - or however often you want to come and see me; it’s up to you - you have my complete attention. This is the sort of attention that we almost never get from anyone else.
I shall probably tell you very little about myself. This is not because I want to remain mysterious, but because every minute focussed on me is a minute that is taken away from you. If you ask me a direct question, I shall do my best to answer it. I am not here to play games with you without your consent.
Secrets and confidences, even amongst friends, can often be used in ways that are manipulative or destructive. You are not my friend or my partner. My role is to support you in understanding yourself and the decisions you choose to make. You can tell me whatever you want, and you can know that what you tell me will be held in absolute confidence1.
Our secrets can seem appallingly shameful. There may be things that we have done, or we may have thoughts about things that we would like to do; and it is easy to believe that we will be condemned or humiliated for those thoughts or actions.
I do not ask you to trust me blindly; trust must be earned. I can tell you, however, that I am profoundly grateful to those who have been prepared to listen to my own secrets without judging me. I would hope to be able to do the same for others.
In common with most counsellors I have a supervisor whom I visit regularly to talk about my work. These discussions help me to help you. This means that I share some of what we talk about with my supervisor. My supervisor will not know who you are, and is bound by the same principles around confidentiality as I am. Anything that we discuss will not go any further.
You may be looking for advice. It is rare for me to offer advice - even if asked for it. The problem with advice is that, however well we might come to know each other, there will always be something that I do not know. Advice, for this reason, can backfire very badly.
The best advice you can follow is your own; and I shall do my best to help you to find and to follow your own advice.
And just occasionally, I might, against all the odds, offer advice. What I have described here is a good general rule. Like all rules, there are times when it needs to be broken.
1It is important to note that, whilst I will do everything that I can to maintain confidentiality, the law in this respect is horribly complex, and there are circumstances under which I might be legally bound to break confidentiality. I can say, however, that, in the best part of 20 years, I have never yet had to do so; I should certainly resist as best I can any attempt to make me.