Tag Archives: counselling

female video call

How to find the right counsellor for you

I’m currently training to be a counselling. As someone who’s also experienced “lying on the therapists couch” I thought I’d put some thoughts together for people who might be looking for a counsellor or therapist in these difficult times.

If you were looking for a doctor, you would make sure they were registered with the General Medical Council. Therefore you should make sure that your therapist/counsellor is a member of an organisation such as: BACP, UKCP or NCS* (or equivalent in other countries). The counselling/therapy profession isn’t currently fully regulated (that means anyone can call themselves a counsellor and isn’t breaking the law)…but by making sure that they’re a member of an organisation such as these, you’ll be getting a professional who:

  • Has achieved a substantial level of training (at least diploma level having undertaken 100 hours supervised placement hours etc)
  • Frequently undertakes continuous professional development
  • Adheres to a specific code of ethics (which can be found on each website)

You may wish to use a directory such as Counselling Directory to search for a verified, accredited counsellor/therapist. We have been incredibly fortunate that counselling has become more accessible recently, it’s now available online or on the phone, although there may be pros and cons, see this recent blog. There are specific platforms where this is all that’s offered so that it’s available across the world (e.g. Better Help and My Online Therapy). However, location may be a priority, should you wish to return to face-to-face counselling at some point. When browsing profiles a few red flags to beware of:

  • A counsellor who claims they deal with too many areas—some very experienced counsellors may have expertise in a number of areas but watch out for inexperienced counsellor’s who’re just trying to look more attractive.
  • Offering too many therapies—integrative is a type of therapy that is a specific way of blending therapies but being a specialist in more than about 4-5 therapeutic interventions means the therapist may not know the therapies in any depth. Also beware of the opposite—very specialist therapies claiming to cure-all are spinning you false hope!

Before you go to meet you counsellor/therapist, try to be clear with yourself what you want. For example, they don’t/shouldn’t diagnose or offer advice, the sorts of things you might achieve involve understanding yourself and why you repeat unhelpful patterns better and developing more helpful ways of coping with life’s ups and downs. It’s not up to them to decide what you need. During the introductory session, it’s important to find out if what you want and what they offer align.

Once you meet a therapist, you may think that feeling a sense of connection is the most important thing; while you’re not wrong there are some other important points to consider:

  • Do you trust them to keep the boundaries? These are the framework on which everything else hangs—they help you maintain trust and they’re where the work begins! For example, if the sessions always run over time, do you trust them to maintain confidentiality?
  • Will you be able to form a working alliance with this person? This is the relationship that exists between the counsellor and client that means they are able to work together in a judgment free zone towards shared goals. Do you understand how they work and will this help you?
  • Will this person challenge you? If you feel too comfortable with this person, if they’re too similar to you, it can be difficult to push yourself outside your comfort zone and make the changes that are needed.
  • Have you been able to ask all the questions you have? Do you know how much it’s going to cost? Are you signing up for a specific number of session or is it open ended? How will you be reviewing you progress?

Obviously you don’t want things to go wrong but if at any point you’re uncomfortable or wonder if they’ve behaved unethically, have they told you what to do? (Speak to them initially, then contact their membership body.)

Counselling/therapy can be hard but fantastically rewarding.

A life unexamined is not worth living—Socrates
  • *BACP = British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists
  • UKCP = UK Council for Psychotherapy
  • NCS = National Counselling Society
Lady using phone and laptop

Therapy in a post-covid world

Imagine you’ve been seeing a therapist once a week to help manage a mental health condition, then the COVID-19 pandemic hits your country and you’re suddenly in lockdown. Everyone around you is concerned with whether they can buy enough toilet roll, work from home, arrange childcare or finish buying the supplies for their DIY project; while these things are important to you, you’re world has been turned upside down because the one place you felt completely safe was your therapist’s room and you have no idea when you’ll be able to return.

There are a number of issues to consider when thinking about delivering therapy remotely, it’s important to think about keeping everyone safe:

  • Is the client’s space confidential? How comfortable do they feel? Might they be distracted/interrupted by other people/chores etc? This is particularly important for cases involving domestic abuse or relationship issues.
  • There are a number of options—phone, text only or video conferencing all have pros and cons for client and counsellor. Security of the software is a consideration as well as how the clients data will be managed.
  • It’s important to assess the psychological needs of the client, it may be inappropriate for certain people to engage remotely/virtually due to the type or severity of their problems—this needs to be handled sensitively.

For some agencies in March 2020 (when lockdown hit in the UK), their automatic reaction was shutdown, there was no way that they could function if they couldn’t meet their clients face-to-face. For their clients this could have hit them incredibly hard, they could have felt let down, even abandoned, past hurts may have been recreated. Of course, at ever point, risk assessments were carried out to try and meet the needs of the clients, check in calls were offered and referrals were made to ensure high risk clients could be supported by other services.

What are the pros and cons of virtual therapy and what does it really fell like?!

Not meeting a client face-to-face, obviously, a lot of the nuance is lost. Depending on whether the communication is on the phone, via video call or text based, you may lose body language, eye contact, facial expression or even intonation of voice. Experts say that 70-93% of language is non-verbal so you lose a lot when you’re not in the same room as the person you’re talking to.

young female looking sad texting

But everyone has been struggling during this global pandemic and it’s been vital for people with mental health difficulties to get support. So many therapists and counsellors have stepped up and sought appropriate training. It’s important to take the following into consideration:

  • From the client’s perspective, meeting in their home could feel invasive, or they may not be able to find a confidential space. However there could be benefits such as the client not having to commute. If, however, the client finds it difficult to wind down after a session, grounding exercises can be used.
  • The therapist may continue to use their therapy room but if they use videoconferencing in their own home, they need to consider what’s in the background (books? photographs? things they wouldn’t usually choose to disclose?). If the therapist chooses to use a photograph to conceal the background, how does that look to the client? What are they hiding?
  • It has been found that clients are less inhibited when remote from their counsellor, they will therefore find it easier to criticise the counsellor and will also talk about deeper issues more quickly than when they’re not face-to-face. The counsellor will need to be prepared for the former and it will be important to remember the client may feel vulnerable if the latter occurs.
  • When using phone or text only medium, it’s harder to use silence as a therapeutic tool. If videoconferencing, breaking the silence with “has the screen frozen?” isn’t particularly therapeutic!
  • Contracting needs to have additional consideration e.g. what happens if the technology fails? what do you do if there’s an interruption?
  • Counsellors need to be aware of the blackhole effect. This is the impact that occurs when a client disappears and is not contactable (what to do if this happens will need to be in the contract). Although this can bring up difficult feelings when the relationship has been face-to-face, it has been found the clients are more likely to do it when the relationship is virtual and the feelings that surface in the counsellor can be difficult to manage if counsellor is unprepared or inexperienced.
Lady on video call

I’ve wondered why it took such an extraordinary event, a global pandemic, to open up the world and ensure that people with disabilities could access work and services equally? It’s fantastic that remote counselling is now so widely used and so many more people are now able to access it but there’s a lot to consider.

It’s important that therapists and counsellors are confident in their abilities and fully trained as there are many differences between face-to-face and remote counselling. Since the world of counselling isn’t regulated, this is another layer that has required professionals and students to act responsibly with regards to our ethical framework.

If you’re looking for a counsellor, it’s more important than ever to ensure they belong to a regulate body, such as the UKCP or BACP and that they have suitable training if you’re going to meet with them remotely.

The power of silence

Does anyone else find the world too noisy?

I think we’ve forgotten what quiet is like. Some people find silence awkward or uncomfortable, but I think that’s only because people feel a pressure to fill the gap.

Take the pressure away and silence is just that, some quiet time – there’s nothing intimidating or scary about that.

Yes, I know there are times, perhaps when meeting someone at a party, when small talk is polite, social etiquette is fine but that’s not what I’m talking about.

To be able to be silent with someone is a sign that the relationship has reached a deeper level. That you can just be with this person, without the pressure to fill the gaps says you’re totally comfortable with them.

Silence allows us to just be!

There are people who think out loud – I find this baffling but accept that’s what they need to do. It’s important to understand lots of people need time and space to think inside their heads.

I find it very difficult to concentrate when there’s extra noice around. I have make a conscious effort to block it out, it takes a lot of energy and this detracts from the actual thing I’m trying to concentrate on!

It’s amazing what we can discover in the gaps!

In my counselling training we’ve discussed how important it is to leave silence for our clients. It’s important to give them time to think, it’s only by doing this do we get beyond the practical facts of the situation and into the deeper feelings etc.

As a Christian, I pray daily. For me, this is not a formal process, I chat to God in my head. God does not need me to talk using my external voice. There are times I pray with other Christians. Praying out loud is something some people feel a pressure to do and can get quite anxious about saying “the right thing” – as far as I’m concerned there is no “right” way to talk to God, he knows everything that’s on our hearts, he does not need us to utter a word. The only reason to pray out loud is for the benefit of those around you, this is only necessary in specific circumstances. I pray weekly with a group of people where we share some prayers points, then we sit in silence for a few minutes – in this time God hears the prayers of every individual, instead of just the vocal one! Prayer is a 2 way thing – when Mother Teresa was asked what she said to God, she answered, “I listen”, when with excited anticipation she was asked “what do you hear God say?”, she replied “he listens” – I know this will not speak to everyone but for me it’s one of the most enlightening things I’ve ever heard.

Silence can be refreshing!

As a musician, I couldn’t write a blog about silence without mentioning John Cage’s 4’33”. I’ve never experienced it but I’m in no doubt, sitting in a concert hall full of people (adhering to concert hall etiquette), listening to nearly 5 minutes of ambient sound would be pretty powerful! Music is made up of notes of varying tone, pitch and duration with gaps of silence; John Cage challenges his audience to listen but he’s removed 1 aspect of the music. So, the debate continues about whether it’s music but there’s no doubt it’s an experience!

The therapy session that said to me “this therapist is for me” was one where I sat in silence. I thought he’d be angry that I wasn’t using the session productively – I felt pressure to fill the gap (it wasn’t silent, I was sobbing…) but I couldn’t put any of what I was feeling into words. Looking back, I was angry, but I didn’t have the word, I felt overwhelmed but didn’t know what it was. As a side note, my therapist wasn’t angry with me, he gave me what I needed – time and space to just be.

When I find silence, I can actually feel my ears relax! As a highly sensitive person, noise can be anxiety provoking, some sounds drill into my head as a physical sensation. But when I find silence, I feel my ears say “thank you”!

How about you try it? For a lot of people it will be difficult to find some quiet, but try, sit with your thoughts, don’t get caught up in them but mindfully notice them and see where they go! Quiet can nurture creativity, an inner calm or a deeper understanding of ourselves – it’s worth giving it a go!