Seeing eye-to-eye with your counsellor

Sometimes the relationship with your counsellor just doesn't work but there are ways to see to it that it does, writes Megan Roantree

Attending a counselling session and the prospect of laying oneself bare before a stranger might even feel wrong or frightening. Photograph: Getty Images

Attending a counselling session and the prospect of laying oneself bare before a stranger might even feel wrong or frightening. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Attending counselling is one of the bravest and most honest things that a person in need can do for themselves, and also for those around them. Depending on how successful the match between the counsellor and client is, the decision to attend is sometimes followed by regret, dread, fear and a mixture of other emotions.

Attending a counselling session and the prospect of laying oneself bare before a stranger might feel wrong or frightening. One might dread going to the first few sessions but for the majority of people, the fear eases as they realise that it can be of benefit to their mental health. Unfortunately for some, that discomfort doesn't wear off so quickly and that is when it is important to examine whether you and your counsellor are a good match. There is plenty of support for people with mental health issues and those who need to deal with grief.

However, due to high demand, budget cuts and staff shortages, people are seldom asked if the counsellor they have been allocated actually suits them.

The biggest problem with you and the person counselling you not being right for each other is that you are already vulnerable. Sitting in a room with a professional helper that doesn't seem to 'get you' can often make those seeking help feel even more depressed and anxious.

If a professional can't help then you must, therefore, be a hopeless case.

This is never the case, everyone can benefit from counselling but what people never tell you before you attend is that maybe your counsellor just won't be right for you. This is no one's fault, but happily it is something that can be fixed.

Your counsellor has most likely heard things that no one else has heard people say, so you telling them that your relationship isn't quite right won't have a huge affect on their life, but it could make a big difference in yours. Throughout my life, I have attended counselling, due to several deaths among my close friends and family, mental health problems and anxiety. On one occasion, I felt as though my counsellor underestimated my intelligence and patronised me. I never felt comfortable in her office.

This was not due to her lack of qualifications or because of her not being a capable worker. Looking back at it now she treated me like a young person while I was facing very grown-up issues of my own. It probably would have worked for someone who had just lost their Dad, but it didn't work for me.

Other counsellors have annoyed me by taking notes instead of listening to me, or by saying things in a way that I didn't like, but none of these things is a fault on their part, but rather down to a conflict of personalities.
A brief chat at the end of a counselling session could make all the difference, a simply phrased question 'did you feel supported during our chat?' Was there anything I said or did that you didn't like' or 'do you think these sessions are helping?'

Counsellors have heard it all before but no amount of books, training or even time working in the field can force two people to work well together.

Counsellors should take the time at the end of a session to ask people whether their approach is working. People should feel more comfortable about changing counsellors or meeting them for a trial run before deciding on who they are going open their hearts up to on a regular basis.

These measures, these simple questions, could save someone's life.