Why just going to counselling isn’t enough
I have had many desperate partners and parents in my office who say, “If only my loved one would go to counselling”, usually with the following variation, “then I can relax/trust or s/he will fix him/herself so that we can be good together”. Much as I believe counselling is helpful, I always caution – just going to counselling isn't enough and won’t be enough.
First are the seat warmers. They come, are silent or can talk about anything except themselves and their lived experiences and problems. Seat warmers are not willing or able to engage in counselling so they’re only marking time until the agreed-upon number of sessions are reached, they get the “get out of counselling” card, but have not genuinely made any changes, and will likely repeat the same patterns and behaviours that were troubling before counselling.
Second, are the finger pointers. They come and blame everything on everyone else and insist they are innocent or powerless. Yes, other people have played a part in our hurt and suffering, but you played a role and you are the one in counselling, they are not. You have a responsibility to change your part or let go of the past while learning to create an emotionally healthy life for yourself individually and in your relationship.
If the counselling isn’t looking at these factors and seeking healing, amends, or moving forward, the counselling only reifies the blaming stance which disempowers the clients and promotes continued disconnection from themselves and others.
Both these sets of clients are in the contemplative stages of change – they can see the problems, but they don’t have a clear set of goals or know how to get there. They aren’t able to commit to the process and engage in the next stage of change which is action.
Action means understanding how you got here, knowing where you want to go, and being willing to do the physical, emotional, psychological and cognitive explorations and adaptive changes to feelings, thoughts and behaviours necessary to create health and wellness for oneself and in one’s relationships.
Counselling only works for clients who recognize the problem and their role in maintaining it and are willing to look at the difficult feelings, wounding (what others have done to them and what they have done to others), core beliefs, thoughts and coping styles in order to act, think and feel in more useful ways.
As a counsellor it is my job to help them prepare, establish and work towards viable goals such as releasing feelings, understanding and changing thoughts and core beliefs, creating an authentic connection with themselves and others, with creative and effective ways to address fear, worry, guilt or shame.
Next time you ask someone to go for counselling, be clear on the changes you want to see and use the attainment of those changes as the true benchmark of whether counselling is beneficial or not.
Even better, use your own counselling to neither seat warm nor finger point. You are responsible for your goals and healing work and counselling can be an invaluable support to make the necessary changes for an authentic life and relationships.