The Rationale Behind Talking to a Counsellor Rather Than Friends or Family

Back in 2012 I wrote an article about how it’s far better for someone in distress to talk to a professional counsellor than a friend or family member. Now seven years later it feels right to update and expand that piece in line with current attitudes and ideas. Since my original post we have seen views about mental health and personal stories being expressed more openly, often by celebrities like actors, musicians, sports stars and even Royalty. These people have done much to bring the whole subject of mental health into the limelight and have helped to improve attitudes to where we now see psychological health moving towards being treated the same as physical health. However for some progress is gradual and by this I mean we still encounter occasional derision around mental health issues by some who wouldn’t dream of disrespecting a person with a physical illness and so we sometimes still find prejudice if we scratch below the surface.

Previously I talked of what can happen when someone confides in a family member or friend and the result of that being the listener possibly feeling some responsibility for the talker’s situation. When this happens it’s a springboard for upset and hurt and may trigger the talker to hold back and not talk freely about their concerns and issues because they are afraid of upsetting the listener. An example of this could be the son encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the family firm, even though the young man had other ideas about his future. Plucking up courage to speak to his parents about his unhappiness and the feeling that joining the firm was a big mistake, he gets into a heated argument and decides that he cannot raise the subject again. The parents feel hurt by their son’s apparent rejection of their help and his ungratefulness at the chance to carry on the family business and ruminate on `where they went wrong. `

Alternately, if the young man has sought the help of a professional counsellor, things might well have turned out differently. He would have been able to talk freely without any fear of upsetting anyone because counsellors and psychotherapists are not personally connected to their client’s story and are independent in their outlook and because of their long training are virtually unshockable. A proficient therapist will be genuinely interested in their client, empathic and non-judgmental and do their best to help their client but they won’t advise them or tell them what to do. It’s all about the therapist supporting the client while he or she explores their thoughts and feelings and if the client can come up with their own solutions there’s more value in that then being told what to do. The client will be encouraged to maybe see things differently and helped to explore ways of resolving their situation. All this is done in the confidential and private setting of the counsellors own comfortable therapy room.

Depending on the individual client a profession counsellor will work with them along a planned path, which will start with identifying what the client wants to achieve in counselling, what changes they want to make to their lives and what their goals are. Through active listening the counsellor will help the client identify unhelpful thinking and irrational thoughts that are creating unwanted feelings and explain how to replace those unhelpful thoughts with new positive ones.

The work might include the acquisition of an understanding of the origins and development of emotional difficulties and becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings which had been blocked off or denied. Hugely important is self-acceptance and the development of a positive attitude towards self and movement in the direction of fulfilling potential as well as being assisted to arrive at a higher state of spiritual awakening. The therapist will also help the client to find a solution to problems which the client had not been able to resolve alone. Right from the very first session, the aim of counselling is that at some stage the client will leave feeling better about whatever was troubling them and with new skills to keep themselves psychologically well. So we can now see now that it’s not just family and friends being too close to be helpful, it’s also the skills the counsellor has to move things forward that makes things different.

In conclusion: Imagine that you have taken yourself away to your favourite seaside resort to give yourself time to make sense of something disturbing and worrying in your life. You walk along the front, taking in the vastness of the sea, the seemingly endless beach and the gulls riding the wind overhead. You notice families enjoying a day out and couples holding hands with eyes only for each other, oblivious to people around them. You reach the end of the promenade to where the bandstand sits upon a grassy knoll and decide to sit for a while on a wooden bench where you get into conversation with a total stranger. The stranger seems understanding and genuinely interested in you and you find yourself trusting them. You pour your heart out to them and talk of things that you have never told your family or friends. This is similar to counselling because counsellors are not personally involved in the situation and are impartial. Therefore there is no conflict or bias and you won’t upset them because they are trained to listen. Hence, there is no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive, no past, regret or guilt: the counsellor is maybe the perfect stranger.

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

© David Trott 2019




Getting Older - Cause for Counselling?

If one is lucky enough to be blessed with reasonably good health and also survive what life throws at us in our younger years, we will enter into a bizarre experience called `Getting Older'. This is unavoidable by the very fact that if we are still breathing, we are still alive and so getting older will happen. Often with youth comes the certainty that one is invincible and this heady intoxication of indestructible self assurance tells us that we will go on forever in this unbreakable vehicle called our body.   I know from my own experience that a belief exists that old age is something that happens to other people and older folks were always that way, having been born like that and so were never young.

So however intensely the young might believe this aging process will not happen to them and that they will somehow be spared old age, as long as they do not succumb to illness, accident, suicide, war or foul play they will gradually and inescapably drift towards the autumn of their years.  Yalom writes in The Gift of Therapy that `death denial` is a belief in our personal `specialness` and how we   believe that we will not be dealt with in the same harsh way that life deals with everyone else.  Therefore we will be spared that final journey, that unfathomable ending, that cut off point.

In our younger years, small changes happen without much drama or commotion until one day we catch sight of ourselves in a shop window and wonder who that elderly grey haired, slightly overweight person is.

It seems no coincidence that at the age of sixty, one becomes eligible for free prescriptions in England. This is because for many people, things appear to change at that age and the likelihood of some health issue increases.

As well as this, getting older means for most of us a certain loss of our good looks.  Our faces lose of their definition, gravity pulls them downward and our skin might become paler and lose some of it’s elasticity.  Our hair may become thinner and change colour and we could gain some weight.  I remember one lady who told me that she hated the way that she looked now and that was the same as all the other elderly ladies at the club she belonged to.  She spoke of her white permed hair, her glasses, paleness of her aging skin and the need to have flat comfortable shoes instead of the high heeled fashion shoes she once enjoyed.  For myself I could see that her image was not helped by the addition of an awful quilted anorak that her husband thought was quite `trendy`.

So psychologically how does this shift in the way we are affect us?  Invisibility is said to be common as one becomes older, invisibility in shops, bars and on the pavements, even the street charity reps, often look past the elderly to the next viable punter, which can add to the feeling of unimportance.  

Paradoxically, there has never been more respect and admiration then we are seeing now for the warriors of our armed forces.  Whichever war or campaign is being remembered, the nation’s hearts and souls back the men and women who have in the past protected us.  Sadly for many of these ex-service men and women, they remain traumatised by what they witnessed and still carry this mental scar.  For them, there’s no doubt in the positive value of counselling but unfortunately many from older generations will see such help as a sort of weakness and favour a spirit of `just getting on with it`, which I feel is a pity as there are many therapists out there with the right skills to help.

So we have the feeling of invisibility and one of unimportance but what of the father and mother whose flock have flown the nest?  They may have spent twenty years or so looking after their young and now they find themselves redundant as parents, rattling around in a house that once vibrated with noise and life.  Do they embrace their new freedom or quietly contemplate the emptiness not only in their home but also their consciousness.

It’s been noted that for some men, middle age and beyond appears to encourage thoughts of reliving their younger years by buying a sports car.   For many, owning what they had all those years ago is not possible, for example the Triumph Spitfires, MGB’s and Midgets are now rare and require lots of TLC.  The alternative is a shiny new fun carriage like a Mazda or a Toyota and one can witness many grey haired gentlemen once again enjoying the rush of open top touring.  However psychologically there is a lot more to it than that and our old friend Sigmund Freud would understand what these people are going through and what they may be trying to replace.  He called the human sex drive the libido and this is often affected to some extent by age.  According to the NHS Choices website –

`Many people lose some interest in sex as they get older, mainly as a result of falling levels of sex hormones, age-related health problems, or the side effects of medication. Older men especially can develop low testosterone levels, which can cause fatigue, depression and a reduced sex drive.  Speak to your GP if you're concerned about this. They may carry out a blood test to check your testosterone level and can tell you about treatments if your level is low. As women start to approach the menopause, levels of the female hormone oestrogen begin to fall, which can affect libido. Women can also suffer from low testosterone levels, especially after a hysterectomy. Testosterone is another hormone that can affect sex drive.  Speak to your GP if you're concerned the menopause may be having an effect on your libido. They may be able to offer you a trial of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) if it's suitable for you.`

A distressing worry for many men as they get older is Erectile Dysfunction (ED) also known as Impotence and this is the inability to get and maintain an erection.  According to the NHS Choices website -

`Erectile dysfunction is a very common condition, particularly in older men. It is estimated that half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 will have it to some degree.  See your GP if you have erectile dysfunction for more than a few weeks. They will assess your general state of health because the condition can be the first sign of more serious health conditions, such as heart disease (when the heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted).`

`Erectile dysfunction is primarily treated by tackling the cause of the problem, whether this is physical or psychological. The narrowing of the arteries (called atherosclerosis) is one of the most common causes of ED. In these cases your GP may suggest lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, to try to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. This may help to relieve your symptoms as well as improving your general health. You may also be given medication to treat atherosclerosis, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and drugs to reduce your blood pressure.`   (Source NHS Choices)

Similarly to the way we attempt to turn the clock back with sports cars, we see the growth in toy fairs across the country where we see people urgently looking for that one thing that will bring back happy memories of childhood.  This might be that Dinky or Corgi toy, a teddy bear, doll, tin plate toy or train set.  I met a man once who had just bought a second-hand Tri-ang train from the 1960’s.  He told me that his family were poor when he was young and so they couldn’t afford these things but now he wasn’t poor and so he was going to have all that he wanted.  So we see people like this man attempting to repair a deprived childhood by collecting long desired items here in the present.

This touches a little into the TV programmes that are popular at the moment about `hoarders`.  People who live in cluttered houses, sometimes unable to function because of the amount of possessions that they have.  Often a lot of it we see as rubbish but the people involved are still unable to get rid of it.  Many of these programmes feature Stelios Kiosses who is highly regarded in the psychotherapy world.  Stelios studied psychodynamic counselling at the University of Oxford and is a member of the BACP.

We often see a theme or trend with the work of Stelios where he uncovers a traumatic experience in the lives of the hoarders.  This experience is often linked to loss and the collecting often turns out to be a way of compensating for this loss.  So the feeling for these people may be that of not being able to lose anything more, or perhaps more correctly anyone else from their lives.

For some as time goes on, there can be loss of independence and the need to have to rely on others.  This can be very hard and re-enforces the fact that one is older and just not the same as before.  Having others do one’s shopping if mobility is an issue, may be hard for some as it’s not just food but will include personal items that one might like to buy oneself.

Independence also includes money and getting older will eventually see people retire and this will almost always have some effect on their income.  Poverty in old age is a massive issue and too big to discuss here in detail but for many people the changes that they go through in later years will include some caused by their financial position. Often the phrase is heard that one has to be `really rich or very poor` because if one is caught in the middle, there’s little help to be had.

Loneliness, isolation and lack of communication may be big issues for people when they get older.  Maybe the person has had a busy working life interacting with customers and colleagues and suddenly they are cut free from this and now may feel confused about their role and place in life.  What do they do with their days?  Who do they speak to? 

So we see that loss can be a major element in getting older for some.  Loss of significance, health, visibility, communication and interaction, libido, independence – both financial and physical and perhaps the loss of a loved one.  This is where counselling might come into the picture.  It won’t turn the clock back but it may help resolve psychological issues brought about by the aging process and help the person to see a different view of their life.  This will in turn, enable that person to make the most of what they have and embrace the changes that they are going through.

© David Trott 2015


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