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  • Writer's pictureAshley Hommersom

The Mysteries of Counselling

As a Trauma Counsellor, I both love and dread the inevitable question you’re asked when you meet people for the first time – “what do you do?” Telling people you’re a Social Worker who primarily provides specialist counselling to children and adults, can be an immediate conversation stopper. I do not know whether it is because people don’t know what to say or ask, are perhaps ashamed about knowing too much, in case this discloses their own counselling experience, or maybe even because they wish to avoid a conversation about matters that are so taboo (sexual assault, domestic violence, human suffering…) in our society, that it is safest just not to ask any more questions.

To be honest, this is exactly how I felt before I became a Counsellor. I remember when I first explored the option of becoming a Counsellor, I knew that it involved talking and helping people overcome difficulties in their life (either from the past, in the present, or worries about the future), but I did not fully know what else counselling involved. So, for those who might be interested in knowing more about counselling, or have been thinking about attending counselling but do not know what it is all about, or even if you (like I was) are just particularly curious about what happens behind closed therapy doors, here are a few things I’d like to share with you.

Firstly, counselling is not about retelling every detail of your past. This is especially the case when you are attending counselling for trauma related matters. In recent years, there has been a big change in how clinicians work with people who have experienced trauma, whether that is sexual assault or domestic violence, exposure to childhood abuse and neglect, war-time or terrorist-related trauma or trauma associated with natural disasters. Professionals were of the understanding that by retelling the story of the horrific event, you would eventually become desensitised to it - no longer be as affected by it, and no longer find it as scary to think about, or as difficult to manage. However, recent research into how trauma effects the brain, our memory, our emotions and as a result, the re-experiencing of the event, has indicated that by continuing to re-tell the details of the trauma, you are in fact re-traumatising yourself. In this process, you are tricking your brain to believe that the trauma from the past, is actually happening in the present, and as a result, you experience all the same emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations, all over again. This is not helpful to the healing process. So, rather, trauma counselling (as well as any other kind of counselling) is about identifying the impact of the trauma, or challenging situation, the effect of the legacies or challenges in the present, and how it continues to have power over your thoughts, your actions, your feelings, your beliefs, and your ability to have a meaningful day.

Secondly, counselling is not only about looking at what is not going well, and trying to fix this, but also about identifying, acknowledging and celebrating what is working well. In daily life, whether it is in counselling, or outside of the counselling room, we often forget to identify our strengths and skills that we already have. These strengths and skills, without us even realising it, help us to make it through the day, even if only just. These qualities might range from our ability to be patient in situations we might want to scream and have a toddler-like ‘meltdown’, or they might include our ability to recognise our own needs and perhaps turn down, or accept, an invitation for a social arrangement. Our ability to share, care, support others, be a loyal friend, smile at a stranger, create an interesting piece of art, engage in challenging physical activities or manage to keep a functioning household running, are all incredible strengths we often take for granted. Whatever it might be, we all have strengths and skills that we can draw on, and build upon, to assist in overcoming the challenges that life throws us.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, counselling is about emotions. Emotions are hard, they are hard to identify, they are hard to understand, they are hard to deal with, and frequently hard to shift or change. Whilst we tend to categorise our emotions into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kinds of emotions, we sometimes forget that all emotions have a purpose and are entirely, universally, human. This is not to say that the way I experience anger or happiness is the same way that you experience anger or happiness, but rather that we all have the ability to experience a vast number of feelings, every day, all day. Some feelings might be particularly distressing, or difficult to manage, whilst others are extremely desired but seemingly unreachable. Some feelings can make our day, others can ruin it. Sometimes we feel like we are able to be in control of our feelings, and other times it seems like our feelings have complete control over us. So, in counselling we try to understand our feelings, find ways to develop our own and workable relationship with them (even the ones we don’t particularly like, maybe anger, sadness, disappointment…) as well as develop ways to manage them. Sometimes this is about learning ways to make ourselves feel less stressed or more content, sometimes it’s about accepting that it is OK to grieve (or be sad, or even angry) and feel comfortable in being able to do this in a way that is not entirely overwhelming or debilitating. When we start to have a better relationship with our feelings, we ultimately have the ability to shape ourselves, and our life, in a way that brings us satisfaction and enthusiasm about the present and the future.

Lastly, Counsellors, at least in my professional (and personal) opinion, aim to empower clients. This means, increasing people’s ability to make choices, problem-solve and manage life’s challenges, independent of a Counsellor’s input. Another way to see this - every single counselling session, I aim to get that little bit closer to actually doing myself out of a job. Yes, life can be challenging, and over the course of time we may find ourselves in different situations that could benefit from a counselling intervention, but each time, it is about supporting clients to develop the skills to eventually manage the current difficulty on their own.

So, now that you know a little bit more about counselling, you might not shy away from a conversation about it in the future. If this has sparked your curiosity even more, and perhaps you found yourself thinking…. “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound that bad… I might like to give that a go”, shoot me an email, or give me a call. It would be a pleasure to hear from you.


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