The meaning of counselling and psychotherapy
Therapy can be defined simply as two persons involved in a conversation with an aim: To grow one's capacity to live in accordance with the kind of person one is, and how one wants to become. The conversation begins with any aspect of one's life that brings up feelings of vulnerability or anxiousness. This is expressed in all its depth and complexity. The therapist responds genuinely, showing an understanding in a way that leads to greater self-understanding in the person seeking help. The atmosphere is non-judgemental and empathically receptive. Importance is given to being as authentic as possible without forcing anything. This can be a gentle yet powerful process for people who want to move forward, grow, and become more able to meet the challenges and opportunities in life.
People come to therapy for many reasons, ranging from specific life events, or sudden change in circumstances, ongoing relationship difficulties, long-standing issues from the past or some future prospects. The important thing is how do any of these affect your life as a person. Even problems like depression and anxiety which afflict tens of thousands of people, can only be properly understood and dealt with in terms of their impact on the life of each person.
I think ultimately therapy is concerned with all the paradoxical questions of human existence: living and dying, meeting and parting, change and constancy, dependence and independence, meaning and absurdity, despair and hope, destiny and freedom, stagnating and flourishing.
If you are new to therapy
* Therapy or counselling is essentially a form of dialogue between two or more participants. It primarily involves you expressing yourself as freely as possible - verbally and non-verbally - and the therapist being fully present, listening actively, responding genuinely, and holding clear boundaries. The atmosphere encourages a conversation to occur and flow spontaneously without having to rationalise every utterance. Yet, these conversations remain sensible and meaningful in a way that is always relevant to your situation.
* Ordinary conversations occur as part of day-to-day social engagements. Therapy occupies a different kind of space in which 'inner experiencing' can be explored in the context of all of our 'outer' and 'inner ' relationships. In therapy, talking is placed in service of a deeper exploration, rather than merely producing - or reproducing - verbal accounts and explanations. Therapeutic conversation evokes, and even provokes change, without the therapist assuming the role of an expert who advises or instructs.
* Therapy takes place in recognition that there are no ultimate truths for us to possess, and that our day to day experiences hold sufficient learning to guide us through our life.
* What one discovers in sessions is 'experiential self-understanding' . This enables you to come to know yourself more through your feelings, desires, dreams, body sensations, fantasy and uncensored verbal utterances, as well as conscious thought. The process aims at emotional maturation and body sensitivity also and is not entirely an intellectual exercise.
* During therapy it is quite common to begin to see a new angle to an existing problem, to get in touch with an unexpected feeling, or to gain a new insight into an old situation. This can lead to recognizing links to the past or something about the future, but invariably pointing you towards the next possible step in your life.
* An open and non-judgemental exploration between us can lead to a deeper self-understanding which can increase your capacity to live life more fully by prompting your natural talents, vital strengths, and inner resources to emerge, helping you to face life with meaning, purpose, energy, resolve, and courage.
* Deeper and lasting changes then become possible through discovering new, authentic, 'original', ways of being with one's self, in relationships, and in the world.
* Therapy is a creative process, full of openness, patience, sensitivity, and concern. Whilst a sense of immediacy, clarity, and focus are essential in this work, it is not closed off to other possibilities such as ambivalence, arbitrariness, boredom, deception, imagination, irony, paradox, repetition, rupture, silence, and humour.
* Therapeutic truth emerges in the ebb and flow of a dialogue. It is helpful to remain in touch with a sense of openness for the 'new and unexpected' to find a space in your life. Occasionally sitting in silence can be an invaluable part of this kind of communicative work.
You may want to look here for commonly asked questions e.g. What does a typical therapy session look like? and How will I know if my therapy is going well? To return to the Home page, go here
- Fernando Pessoa
For some of the more frequently asked questions about counselling and psychotherapy, go here