And how to break up with one who's not.
I firmly believe that everyone can benefit from counselling. Whether you’ve been through something huge and traumatic or you just get stressed and feel under pressure at work, minding your mind is crucial.
Counselling can feel overwhelming and nerve-wracking, and often the idea of going to the appointment is much harder than actually sitting down with a counsellor. However, finding the right counsellor to suit you and your needs could make all the difference. If you feel comfortable, relaxed and as though you’re in the right hands, you’re more likely to open up and really make the most of your appointments.
“Doing some work on finding the right counsellor before you begin therapy allows you ownership of the process, which is really important. This is your mental health and this therapeutic relationship can be fundamental in positively altering your understanding of self for the rest of your life, and also means that the first day of therapy is less intimidating,” Lorraine Hackett, a psychotherapist with MyMind, explains.
So once you take the step in deciding to attend therapy, it’s important to ask yourself what are the most important factors for you. Lorraine explains:
“Are there social or cultural factors that you want your therapist to understand? At MyMind, for example, we can offer therapy in many different languages. If religion is a part of your life, a therapist who has a knowledge of your faith might be important. Equally, if having a secular therapist is important to you, be aware of this also. Think about whether or not age, gender or nationality are factors that you would like control of.”
It’s also important to know that there are different kinds of therapists who work with different needs and issues. “Do a little research into the therapy that is most appealing to you. Do you want short-term counselling support, generally most common for issues-based support? Or is longer-term, uncovering work more appealing? Would you rather see a psychologist – who seeks to help you to change behaviours in your life, or a psychotherapist – who seeks to bring you awareness of all the parts of yourself and where they came from?”
If it’s about recovering from a particular trauma, think about working with a trauma-informed therapist. All good therapists will be registered with an accreditation organisation such as the Irish Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists or the Psychological Society of Ireland.
For Danielle, 27, it was her counsellor’s casual, friendly nature that helped her. “I always liked my counsellor from the start but there was a moment in the middle of our sessions where he made a joke referencing something that I had said weeks previously. I thought it was hilarious and it reassured me that his personality definitely suits mine,” she said. “It was my first time going to counselling. Things had changed drastically within a year of my life and although I was coping, I felt I needed to check in with someone who was outside of my family and friend group,” she explains.
“I wasn’t nervous but I was probably overthinking everything in that first session. Do I sit in this chair or that chair? Why isn’t he writing down notes like in movies? if I drink the water, is that a test? Those thoughts soon disappeared and we ended up having a good chat about why I was there and how I’d like to continue for the coming weeks and taking things step-by-step and the session went so quick and I came out smiling.
“Of course, there were some weeks I didn’t want to go because it can take a lot out of you after a long day at work but I never regretted it once I was there,” she added.
While Danielle had a positive experience, others aren’t so lucky, and sometimes a mismatched counsellor can be detrimental to one’s health because you either don’t open up as much, or quit counselling altogether.
“I went to a counsellor for anxiety at the beginning of final year of college. I knew I had to learn to deal with my anxiety so I could do myself justice in final year. At the beginning of the sessions, she seemed to be helping me recognise my signs of anxiety so I could stop it escalating to where I’d feel sick or an emotional wreck. But as the weeks went on I felt like I was coming out of my sessions more stressed than I went in,” Deirbhile, 23, reveals.
“I would tell her my plan to get my college work done, and I knew for me being ahead of the game and finishing assignments in advance made me feel on top of things and like I was in control, I knew that if I felt under pressure my anxiety would heighten and I’d struggle to focus.
“She would tell me I was going to burn out and I was doing too much. I stopped going because it was now an hour of worrying and stressing rather than an hour of being reassured that how I felt my anxiety was completely normal. I would like to find a counsellor that helped me use coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with and work on my anxiety and to look more at the root cause and to heal those wounds,” she added.
Deirbhile has not yet gone back to any form of counselling following her negative experience. “If therapy is difficult and causing uncomfortable feelings on a weekly basis, bear in mind that this is part of the work, you are not there to make a friend,” Lorraine explains.
“You’re there to fully experience your difficult feelings and integrate these feelings into your understanding of yourself. However, the therapeutic relationship needs to be open and honest. Congruence – the capacity to keep reality central to a situation – is a core principle in psychotherapy.
“Your therapist, who should be aware of your emotional state and capacity to open up in the room, should be helping you to manage this, and open and frank conversations about how you feel the work is going should be the norm within any therapy. You do not need to be polite in order to save his or her feelings. If you do not feel that the work is happening or happening at a pace that is comfortable for you, then it is important that you raise this.
“Ultimately, if this relationship does not work for you, leave it and find one that does. You owe it to yourself and to your mental health.”
Ray Henry, Chairperson of the Irish Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists adds that you don’t have to give a reason for finishing up with a counsellor:
“No client is under an obligation to justify their decision. However, it is always good to ask yourself why you are uncomfortable with the counsellor, sometimes people might feel challenged and this can be a natural, positive part of the counselling process.”
It’s also important to remember that you can always stick to the same organisation or place for therapy, but see a different professional. “Transferring therapist within an organisation is very common,” Lorraine says. “Seeing a therapist within a large organisation holds this distinct advantage. If a relationship isn’t working for you with one therapist, they have access to a range of other therapists that they might know would suit you better.
“All therapists know that the relationship is central to the work of therapy. If the relationship doesn’t fit, the work cannot progress. If you want to end a therapeutic relationship, do it. Tell your therapist that this isn’t working for you, ask for an onward referral and move on. This work has to empower you within your mental health.”