What is Counselling?

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Jul 1, 2021

What is Counselling?

Counselling and therapy can have so many benefits, but there are certain questions you may have before wanting to jump straight in at the deep end. Here we look at what counselling is, how therapy can help you and what to expect from a session

The NHS defines counselling as a “talking therapy that involves a trained therapist listening to you and helping you find ways to deal with emotional issues.”

Typically, counselling is a form of talking therapy that allows people to discuss their problems, worries and any difficult feelings they are experiencing in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Counselling (also known as therapy) can mean different things to different people, but generally, it is something people seek when they want to change a certain aspect of their life, need support, or because they want to explore and understand their thoughts and feelings more closely.

All of us are different, and so therapy, and the support offered, will vary depending on your situation. Counselling and the techniques involved will be tailored to you.

Because of this, there are also a number of ways you can access counselling. Depending on lifestyles and abilities, while some people will prefer face-to-face sessions, others may be short on time, so telephone counselling may be preferred. Other forms of counselling include individual or group counselling, couples counselling and online counselling.

The benefits of counselling

Counselling, and talking therapies in general, involves talking to a trained professional about the things you are perhaps struggling with, experiencing or want to better understand. While there are a number of different therapies and techniques available, the aims are the same:

  • To give you a safe place to talk to a trained professional without judgement.
  • To help you make sense of difficult feelings/emotions and understand yourself.
  • To help you resolve complicated issues, or find ways to manage them.
  • To help you recognise unhelpful patterns and/or behaviours, and find ways to change them (if you want to).

There are many benefits to counselling. While it was previously seen as a final option for those who have reached crisis point, now it is recognised as a preventative measure, a form of self-care in managing difficult feelings before they get worse.

As said, therapy can help you manage and cope with a number of things, including relationship problems, bereavement, anger, stress, depression and anxiety.

This list is not exhaustive. Counselling can help with long-term physical health problems, difficult life events such as losing your job and divorce, trauma and many other mental health concerns. Sometimes, simply speaking to a professional, and not your loved ones, can make all the difference. Friends don’t always understand, whereas a therapist can offer understanding and direction, while you speak in a safe, confidential space.

Types of therapy

The type of therapy used in your sessions will depend on your counsellor, the reason you are seeking support and well, you. During your first conversation with them, you will typically talk about why you are seeking help, and what you want to gain from counselling. When you know a bit more about each other, and they understand you, they may recommend a type of counselling.

Saying that, you may have an idea about the type of therapy you want through previous research or recommendations from others. It’s OK to try a few different techniques - and counsellors - before you find what works for you. Take your time and listen to yourself.

Common types of therapy include art therapy, cognitive therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), relationship counselling and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).

Counselling FAQs

Can you get free counselling?

Free therapies, including counselling, are available on the NHS. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a referral from your GP to access NHS counselling. However, if you are concerned about your mental health and wellbeing, and would like to know more about counselling and your options, you can speak to your GP who will refer you for relevant treatment.

Unfortunately, NHS counselling can have a long waitlist. If you need immediate support, the Samaritans are available 24/7. You can call them for free on 116 123 or email them on [email protected].

Where to get help

For children and young people, support with mental and emotional issues are available through local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). Many charities offer free support and information, such as Mind, Relate and CALM.

How much does counselling cost?

The cost of private counselling will typically vary depending on where you live. Sessions may cost anywhere between £20 and £80 per hour.

Many private therapists will offer a free initial consultation, and may offer concessional fees for those experiencing financial difficulties, students or those on low income. This will vary depending on the counsellor, so be sure to ask if you have any concerns or questions.

If you decide to pay for private counselling, it is important you know they are qualified, and that you resonate with them. Counselling can be an incredibly emotional time, so take your time in finding a counsellor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, they will help as best they can.

How can I find a therapist?

If you decide to explore private therapy, the next step is knowing how and where to find a therapist who is right for you.

Counselling Directory only lists counsellors and therapists who are registered with a professional body, such as the BACP and UKCP, and have a proof policy all professionals must adhere to before being listed on the website.

Other mental health support

Counselling can be very beneficial for many people, but it’s not for everyone. If therapy isn’t an option for you right now, if you’re waiting for an appointment or even if you attend regular counselling sessions, there are other options available.

Awareness and understanding around mental health and the importance of looking after your own wellbeing continues to grow. As part of that, there are now plenty of avenues you can go down to find information and support. Self-help books, apps and podcasts can help you to understand your own mental health, and teach you ways to cope with everyday stressors.

Peer support - whether that be your local community support group, or an online community - is widely available. While initiatives and organisations, such as MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) England, is becoming more popular in workplaces, ensuring there is the relevant level of knowledge and ability to support employees and get them the help they need.

Complementary and alternative therapies are becoming the norm - with the benefits of meditation, mindfulness and yoga widely known. Herbal remedies, massage and aromatherapy, to name a few, can be very beneficial when practised alongside other self-care methods.

Medication is also an option. There are various medications available which can help to ease or reduce the symptoms of certain mental health problems, and your GP will be able to talk you through what may be best for you.

Remember, what works for one person may not work for you. We’re all different, and so our needs will need to be tailored to our particular situation and personality. Talking - and listening - to someone struggling with their mental health can save a life. If you’re in a position where you are unable to speak to those around you, know that support is available. You’re not alone.

Connect with a therapist online or face-to-face on Counselling Directory.

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