Counselling is an unusual type of conversation (1.11.23)

Often, when we tell a friend about an experience we've had, they will respond by telling us about the time they had a similar experience. Or if we want help with a difficulty or a problem, they might offer advice which is basically what they would do in the same situation. In other words, people rarely seem to make the effort to see things from our point of view.

Counselling is different. The counsellor will rarely speak about their own experience; they're more interested in how you experience life. This can feel a bit weird at first. For many people, having someone really try to understand you is a new experience.

When we feel heard and understood, life starts to feel different. We can start to see our life from a different point of view - old problems can start to seem more manageable.

Counselling can be particularly helpful for topics that feel too personal to share with friends or family, such as traumas or feelings we imagine no-one could understand. A counsellor can remind us that we are not alone in having problems. We might think other people have got it all sorted, but the truth is, at core, we're all a bit fragile, wounded and confused. In other words, we're all human!

Counsellors have typically been through therapy themselves so they are not easily surprised or shocked. They understand human foibles. Rather than offering the responses we get from friends - ranging from ignoring us to trying to fix us with advice - a counsellor will show curiosity and empathy, which can feel empowering.

It's like we're going for a drive with the counsellor sitting in the passenger seat. The counsellor is curious about where we've been and where we want to go. They try to see the world from our perspective. They won't try to grab the wheel and steer us where they think we should go. Of course, on rare occasions, they might step in if they think we're about to crash and do serious harm to ourselves or others. On the whole, they simply want to help us to understand ourselves better so we are more able to navigate life.

By Mike Brooks, psychotherapist