What does a Counsellor do?
- Careful and insightful listening is the largest part of what all counsellors do.
- They make sure clients have defined the problem areas in their own terms, understand the complications and issues, and help them define what they wish to do next.
- Some will then be more active, offering suggestions for further ways of investigating or beginning to resolve the problems; others are less interventive and let the work proceed more at the client's pace.
What kinds of problems can I talk to a counsellor about?
- There are no hard and fast rules. If something is troubling you it can be worth spending some time thinking about why this may be happening. There are however a number of issues that frequently come up, for example:
- Family issues. Partners, children, parenting, separation and divorce, homesickness
- Lack of confidence. Worried about failing, never being good enough, feeling judged
- Depression. Feeling isolated, lonely, empty, tearful, unloved, suicidal.
- Repeated destructive behaviour. Binge eating, harming yourself, abusive relationships, alcohol, drugs
- Feeling out of control, panic attacks, feelings of inadequacy
- Bereavement. Loss, anger, loneliness, sadness & depression
- Anger management.
- Life skills
- Marriage and relationship skills
- The counsellor can also direct you to other services that may be useful to you.
What do I say?
- It doesn't really matter how you present your problem. Your counsellor is there to get you started and help you along.
- You can say whatever you like.
- Sometimes there is silence; sometimes you might find yourself saying things you had not expected to say.
- The counsellor will help you explore the matter with you to help you come to your own better understanding.
Will the counsellor give me advice?
- Counsellors don't ever give advice of the "I'd leave your job if I was you" variety since the purpose of counselling is to help you make your own decision.
- They will never make a moral decision about the course of action you ought to take. The goal is to help you understand your own thoughts, behaviours, and values.
- They may sum up what they understand you have been saying so far in order to help you move on and form a plan of action.
- They can offer pointers to how others have successfully dealt with common problems and may also make suggestions of the "have you thought of the following" variety.
- These suggestions will be drawn from their training in what is helpful and their experience of what has helped others and of course can be rejected if you feel they are unhelpful.
Do I have to pay?
- Fees for service at may office are $80 per session. A session is approximately one hour. Independent counsellors may be able to see you more promptly.
- Some counselling may be available through your employment EPA program. Some counselling may be available through your Family Health Team. Such counselling is usually targeted to specific issues and short term intervention.
- Some medical doctors will offer counselling services that are covered by OHIP. Waiting lists are often long.
What will the counsellor think of me - will they think badly of me for getting into a mess?
- Many of our problems arise just because we are human. Life is complex and there are few who do not stumble or struggle.
- For my own perspective, I take it as a sign of strength and maturity that a person will reach out for help.
- We all make mistakes and have to learn from them, and it is normal to need several goes before we get something right.
- Counselling is based in the belief that most people naturally strive to make the best use of themselves.
- When something goes wrong, it is usually because we are pushing ourselves too hard; because we are in a muddle for reasons we don't fully understand or because we are actually are suffering some form of mental distress which is distorting our view of reality.
- Therefore judging clients is not helpful or relevant; they need to be supported in finding their own way out of the problem.
How can it be right to be in need of help?
- Most people can handle changing a tire or the oil in the car. However engines and transmissions are complex and if they malfunction, it requires special knowledge to make them work. Life and relationship are inherently more complex than any transmission and from time time, people need some help to sort out the complexities, if not absurdities, of trying to make sense of it all. Seeking help means we recognize our own limitations and it is healthy to reach out for assistance.
Does asking for counselling mean admitting failure?
- Paradoxically it can be seen as a matter of strength to ask for counselling.
- Many people think that they are being strong in not seeking help whereas in fact those who can admit to their difficulties could be considered the strong ones.
- Asking for counselling often mean you have taken the first difficult step on the road to resolving the problem.
- The most successful people often seek advice from the experts in their fields. How well does it work when you try to push your own car, by yourself, out of a snow drift?
- A story... a young boy was digging in the yard to build a fort when he hit a large rock. His father watched him from the window as the boy pushed and heaved all to now success. Eventually the father went to the boy and asked how he was doing. The boy, near tears, said " Dad, I've used all my strength to move this rock and I just can't do it." The father said, "No, you haven't used all your strength... you haven't asked me."
What if I still feel ashamed of my problems?
- Counsellors do accept that it is natural to want to appear successful and that most of us feel some shame when we have problems and so don't want to advertise our difficulties. Often, it is the sense of shame that becomes a barrier to moving forward to a more constructive future.
- This is one of the reasons we place a great emphasis on confidentiality.
- You may very well find that once you have expressed your thoughts and feelings to a person you can trust, the sense of shame no longer owns you, and you can begin to find your way forward.
How confidential is counselling?
- Counsellors work to a strict Code of Ethics which means they must inform you of the limits of confidentiality and then stick to these rules.
What are the limits of confidentiality?
- This varies from service to service but normally everything you say is kept confidential to the counselling service unless there is clear evidence someone may be at a severe risk. This includes imminent risk of harming yourself; harming another person; or a child or dependent adult is being subject to abuse or neglect.
- Where ordered by a Court of Law a counsellor may be obligated to make disclosure.
- Counsellors may seek disclosure with your consent in order to work with other professionals on your behalf.
- Counsellors may confer with other counsellors to gain insight in management of your case. In such discussion, counsellors are duty bound to protect your confidentiality, your identity, privacy and dignity.
- This will be discussed with you before beginning counselling.
Should I be worried about the limits of confidentiality?
- Generally clients of counselling services find the level of confidentiality more than adequate.
- Often the worry about disclosure lessens when the client has had a chance to discuss the problem. When the counsellor speaks to others, it is usually because the client wishes them to know; disclosures made against the clients wishes are extremely rare.
- However, if you are worried about the implications of any breach of confidentiality you may wish to:
your particular situation.
- As you are connecting with this site, you do have access to the internet. You may be able to search
for anonymous help through a telephone line.
- 211 Ontario may also direct you to the appropriate services.
Where can I get further information?
- You can consult the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association web site for their perspective on FAQs and a detailed document on counselling ethics.
Does counselling work for everybody?
- No, but it seems to offer at least some help to the majority so is worth a try.
- Your counsellor will check out with you to see if talking is helpful - and if not will help you look for something else.
- A study on the effectiveness of counselling determined that the most important factor was the client being able to acknowledge his/her issues and willingness to make changes in how they think and interact with their world. Effective counselling is a two way street. It takes a cooperative effort by both the person receiving counselling and the counsellor. And it takes a commitment to make sometimes difficult changes in behavior or thinking patterns. The second most important factor was being able to establish a therapeutic relationship (rapport) between the client and counsellor. It is important that you and your counsellor establish a good relationship that allows you to be completely honest about your thoughts and feelings. The third factor was the counsellor's skills.
While you are responsible for making changes in your life, an effective counsellor can help pinpoint the obstacles in your way. If you have control over these obstacles, a counsellor can suggest behavioral changes to help you overcome them. If these obstacles involve factors outside of your control, your counsellor can teach you coping mechanisms that will foster your well being in trying circumstances.
An effective counselor can identify negative thinking patterns that may be feeding feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety. By encouraging you to build upon personal strengths and suggesting skills that can overcome self-inflicted feelings of hopelessness, a counsellor can help you develop a more positive attitude.
A good counsellor can assist you in making positive changes in your relationships with others, helping you recognize behaviors that may be contributing to a troublesome relationship. Your counsellor can teach you effective ways of communicating, clearing the way for honest exchanges with people in your life who may be causing you emotional pain.
You can determine whether your work with your counsellor is effective if you begin to obtain insights about your own thoughts and behaviors that may have eluded you before. Over time, you should be able to recognize patterns in the way you act, trace their sources and identify stumbling blocks to your happiness that you may have unwittingly created. The end result is personal growth that empowers you to control your life and enjoy positive, life-affirming relationships with others.
What if I definitely want a male or female counsellor?
- This is part of establishing a rapport with your counsellor. However, it may be beneficial to consult with counsellor of the opposite gender as s/he may be able to offer a new perspective.
Will the counsellor have experienced problems like mine?
- Very possibly.
- Having problems is part of being human. Many counsellors come into the work because of their experience of successfully resolving personal problems through therapy.
- All will have had their own experience of being a client.
- Therefore although the counsellor may not have experienced the particular problem which you bring, they will all have had experience of being in distress and of seeking counselling help from another.
- Although the counsellor may not have had the same experience, s/he will have empathy for yours.
Wouldn't I be better to try and sort it out for myself?
- Of course there are ways you can help yourself apart from counselling - counselling is just one of the answers.
- There may be a self help book targeting your particular situation. Certainly in the realm of "pop psychology" there are many books that are .... poorly grounded. Other books are a presentation of the authors years of education and clinical experiences condensed into a relatively inexpensive resource. A reasonably well integrated person can read such a book and take from it what is relevant and apply it to their own life.
- Many problems can be sorted for yourself - however it doesn't need to be an either/or situation.
- Counselling is a resource for when you need extra help.
What about talking to my friends or relative?
- Many of the reasons that make counselling effective also apply to talking with friends and relatives. Therefore a talk with a friend may well be helpful and counsellors often encourage clients to use their social support network. However there are some drawback to using personal connections as your only confidants and support.
- Friends and family might feel a conflict of loyalty and find it hard to keep things confidential
- Friends and family might become upset themselves by what you are telling them
- Friends and family might be put out if you don't accept their advice
- If you need lots of help or have issues that personally involve others, friends and relatives might begin to feel resentful and you might feel guilty. Friends and relatives may begin to feel overburdened, especially if they have their own problems too. Counsellors have had training and have formal support and a work structure which helps them to deal with upsetting and difficult situations, and.. .without becoming personally involved.
- Finally, sometimes we need slightly more specialist help than friends and relatives can provide.
- If you do choose to confide in your personal connections, do be wary that they have mature insight into life's complexities, do not have their own "axe to grind" through you, and will respect your privacy and dignity.
Some people have suggested I just have a stiff drink and pull myself together.
- Alcohol reduces anxiety and inhibitions and can be useful for enhancing a positive mood or a pleasant occasion... in moderation.
- One of the beneficial effects of alcohol is the half hour or so to sit and be still and relax and ponder your options while you enjoy your drink.
- Sometimes a drink might seem to revive flagging spirits and help you relax but alcohol doesn't really help solve significant problems. It can even worsen the situation because of its tendency to cause depression and other problems if you drink too much.
- For many people, alcohol can be dangerous. If your experience has been the one drink leads to too many, and your thoughts and behaviours become problematic, you had best avoid self medicating with alcohol... or other mood altering drugs.
- Mindfulness meditation can be a very effective means of relaxation and relieve anxiety and stress.
Does seeing a counsellor mean I am ill?
- No, seeing a counsellor doesn't mean you are ill. It may very well mean that your are healthy enough to recognize you have an issue and are willing to accept some help in sorting through it.
- However, where there are some symptoms of an illness - excessive depression, anxiety etc. - counselling can be helpful.
- Counsellors will not treat you as a sick person, but rather as someone going through a bad time.
Is counselling like psychiatry?
- Counselling bears some relation to psychiatry such that that both deal with emotional and mental processes.
- Psychiatrist are trained medical doctors, who work largely through diagnosis of illness and then by prescribing a treatment - usually involving medication. Some mental health disorders arise from neuro-chemical problems (similar to diabetes) and will require medication to manage.
- Counsellors are normally non-medical personnel who work by talking and encouraging you to find your own solutions, often by changing how you think about things, or helping you learn new skills.
- Counsellors can however recognize the symptoms of severe mental distress, and may suggest you consider medical help if this is appropriate. Counselling may help you cope better with neuro-chemical imbalances that are under concurrent psychiatric (medication) management.